California county faces high costs, Dem resistance in replacing voting machines with hand counts

Costs for deep-red Shasta County's move to hand-counting ballots could run to over $4 million in fiscal year 2024-25.

Published: May 6, 2023 11:41pm

Updated: May 7, 2023 12:28am

After ending its election services contract with Dominion Voting Systems in favor of hand-counting ballots, a California county is running into high cost and manpower estimates — and resistance from Democratic state officials — as it makes the transition. 

The Board of Supervisors for deep-red Shasta County, which has more than 110,000 registered voters, voted 3-2 in January to terminate its contract with Dominion over concerns about the voting machines. The board later decided to move to hand-counting for all of its elections. 

Board of Supervisors Chairman Patrick Jones said that many county residents don't trust electronic voting machines.

"There is a great sense they would like to return to something simpler and safer, and more secure from outside hacking," Jones said.

The chairman's comments reflect concerns that former President Donald Trump and others have voiced regarding voting machines during the 2020 election.

Fox News recently agreed to a $787.5 million settlement in a defamation lawsuit that Dominion brought against the cable network over its airing of claims that "Dominion committed election fraud by rigging the 2020 Presidential Election" and "Dominion's software and algorithms manipulated vote counts in the 2020 Presidential Election."

In California's 2022 gubernatorial election, Shasta County voted 73%-27% for the GOP nominee over incumbent Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom. In the 2020 presidential race, the county voted 65%-32% for then-President Trump over Joe Biden.

According to the county's estimate, shifting to hand-counting would increase costs through fiscal year 2024-2025 by anywhere from $3,776,050 to $4,150,503. However, with outside agencies paying the county "for their share of an election when they have contests included on the ballot," the additional revenue would decrease the county's estimated costs to somewhere between $2,947,165 and $3,143,175. 

There are additional unknown costs that have yet to be factored in as the plan for transitioning to hand-counting is still being worked out. According to Shasta County Registrar of Voters Cathy Darling Allen, a Democrat, 1,300 additional workers are also needed. 

Under the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA), there must be an electronic voting machine available for disabled voters to cast their votes. The county is pursuing a contract with Hart Intercivic to get voting machines for voters with disabilities "and some additional equipment to fulfill all State and Federal elections requirements," the Shasta County Public Information Office told Just the News. 

The cost for continuing to use Dominion would have been $524,000 over the next two fiscal years, Redding Record Searchlight reported

After Shasta County decided to end its contract with Dominion, legislation was introduced in the California State Assembly that would prevent counties from canceling a contract for a current voting system before signing a new one that meets state approval. The bill passed the Assembly and is heading to the state Senate.

The state attorney general also delivered a warning to Shasta County following the termination of its Dominion contract.

The Board of Supervisors must "enter a contract with a certified electronic voting system vendor well in advance of the March 2024 statewide primary election or any intervening election," AG Rob Bonta wrote in a Feb. 27 letter to the Board chair. "Failing to do so will, as discussed above, likely render Shasta County in violation of numerous federal and state laws." 

Shasta County Supervisor Kevin Crye met with MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell about voting machines and hand-counting, a trip he told the Board was sponsored by the county. Crye said Lindell told him he would help finance any legal battles the county may face in switching to the manual election system.  Lindell is being sued by Dominion over allegedly false claims that its voting machines flipped votes for Biden in the 2020 election.

Lindell confirmed to the Los Angeles Times that he would support Shasta County financially if litigation was brought against them. 

Dominion told the outlet in a statement that the county's decision to end its contract with them was "yet another example of how lies about Dominion have damaged our company and diminished the public's faith in elections."

Crye is facing a recall petition for voting to get rid of the Dominion machines, an effort which he said is "the work of liberal Democrats against a conservative Republican."

Crye and the two other supervisors who voted to end the Dominion contract, Jones and Chris Kelstrom, didn't respond to requests for comment. 

Phill Kline, director of the election integrity watchdog The Amistad Project, told Just the News that it is "concerning" but "not surprising" that returning to a hand-count voting system used for centuries is now an "obstacle."

He added that those who have "a lot of money" invested in elections run with electronic voting machines will "throw up obstacles" to reverting to traditional methods. 

Kline said that U.S. elections should "move away from reliance on machines because of the lack of transparency," as "very few people understand" how they work, "including election officials."

The U.S. is currently moving toward the "privatization" of elections, with private money being funneled to public election administration offices, which is "harming faith" in elections, he said. 

Kline cited a 2019 Gallup poll that measured people's confidence in the honesty of elections. The U.S. ranked 27 out of 32 countries in the survey, with 40% saying they believed in the honesty of elections, compared to 59% who don't. The U.S. ranked above only Lithuania, Turkey, Latvia, Chile, and Mexico. 

Kline noted that over the last 20 years, the federal government has poured "billions of dollars into machines" for elections, which means that taxpayers are funding them. 

J. Christian Adams, president of the election integrity law firm the Public Interest Legal Foundation, previously told Just the News that counting ballots with tabulation machines is necessary for states to be able to report election results on election night. 

Just because places like Maricopa County, Ariz., had issues with ballot tabulation machines last year doesn't mean that jurisdictions should return to paper ballots and hand-counting, Adams argued, adding it just means that problems should be resolved. Humans are more prone to making mistakes in counting votes or deliberately changing vote tallies than are machines, he claimed.

Dominion has not responded to a request for comment. 

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