Shasta County Supervisors Terminate Dominion Contract in Narrow, Contested Vote

Five years into an eight-year agreement with Dominion Voting Systems Inc. of Denver, Colo., to provide Shasta County with precinct-by-precinct ballot printing, counting and reporting hardware and associated computer software, the county’s Board of Supervisors Tuesday voted 3-2 to direct staff to cancel a contract not due to expire until late-December 2025.

Board Chair Patrick Jones, who originally placed the action item on the agenda, initially wanted the termination to take effect in late February.

However, Jones modified his motion after County Counsel Rubin Cruse notified the board there was a special election set for March 7 in the City of Shasta Lake to fill a vacant city council position. Ballots were already mailed out to military personnel currently serving outside Shasta County.

Supervisors Mary Rickert and Vice Chair Tim Garman voted against Jones’ amended motion, which was seconded and amended in like form by Chris Kelstrom.

Supervisors Jones, Kelstrom and Kevin Crye voted in favor of directing staff to issue a 30-day notice of intent to terminate the contract.

The county pays Dominion $262,941.83 annually for the leased system, according to a first and second amendment to the original personal services agreement signed by both parties on Dec. 5, 2017. Shasta County Clerk and Registrar of Voters Cathy Darling Allen opposed the board’s action entirely, defending the reliability and accuracy of the leased Democracy Suite 2.2 system and software she and her staff began using early in 2018.

“California has the most stringent regulatory requirements” when it comes to voting systems, noted Darling Allen, who has served in her current position since 2004.

Shasta County Registrar of Voters/County Clerk Cathy Darling Allen.

“Unfortunately, Supervisor Jones, you never contacted me regarding this issue, even though it is my Department,” Darling Allen said when she was asked to estimate the cost of a forensic audit.

“A forensic audit is not lawful under state law, so I did not spend any time trying to estimate the cost of something that is not legal,” she said.

Jones responded, “I take offense to your comment that I am abusing you. You have to restore (public) trust. If you cannot prove to me the Dominion equipment is accurate, then we may have to take corrective action with the contract.”

District 4 Supervisor Patrick Jones  from “Red, White and Blueprint” docuseries.

Darling Allen replied, “Chairman Jones, the tone and tenor of this conversation is contributing to the lack of public trust in this county.”

Dominion Voting Systems is one of only three companies licensed to sell, service and operate voting equipment in the state, Darling Allen noted. The other two are Hart InterCivic of Austin, Texas, and Elections Systems and Software, Inc., (ES&S) of Omaha, Neb.

California’ Elections Code, Section 19201, requires that the Secretary of State reviews and approves all voting systems before they can be bought or used in a California election, states the California Secretary of State’s official website.

Additionally, California’s Elections Code, Section 19202, specifies all direct recording electronic (DRE) voting machines used in California must have an accessible voter-verified paper audit trail, pursuant to California Elections Code section 19270.

Further, California Elections Code, Section 19281, requires the Secretary of State to review and approve all Remote Accessible Vote by Mail Systems before they can be bought or used in a California election.

Created in September 2005, California’s Office of Voting Systems Technology Assessment was charged with two main responsibilities:
1) voting system examination, testing and certification for use in California elections
2) overseeing the approval of ballot printers, as well as authorizing and monitoring the manufacture and distribution of ballots for an election

In subsequent years, the office’s scope has expanded to include voting technologies such as ePollBooks and Remote Accessible Vote by Mail Systems.

Finally, California’s requirements for voter integrity exceed federal requirements for election security.

“Every vote must be cast on a paper ballot or have a voter verified paper audit trail,” states Shirley N. Weber, Ph.D., Secretary of State for California.

“Voting equipment used to cast and count ballots must be certified for use in California and kept offline,” Weber continued.

Election officials in each of California’s 58 counties are required to conduct post-election audits, including a manual tally of a sample of ballots, after every election to ensure the accuracy and integrity of the vote count.

In Darling Allen’s report on the General Election held Nov. 8, 2022, she noted the only anomaly found in the county’s entire system during a pre-election test was a paper jam or ballot misread error, which was detected Nov. 1 at a machine in Redding. It was repaired and returned to working condition well before Election Day.

Three other paper jams or ballot misread errors were discovered on Election Day, one in Oak Run, the second in Shasta Lake City, and the third in Burney.

“After intervention, the machines recovered through internal procedures,” Darling Allen reported.

In an audit conducted after the election, a total of 13 precincts in the county were selected and examined for the study. A total of 5,535 ballot cards that contained 50 contests each were counted manually and compared with machine counts for those same precincts, she writes in a certified report to the Secretary of State.

“There were two variances found between the manual tally and the (machine) tally,” she noted.

One issue was caused by the voter marking the ballot incorrectly by crossing out a selection, but also marking into the target area for another choice. The contest was a vote for two from a list, so both selections were counted by the machine. However, only one selection was counted in the hand tally, Darling Allen explained.

“On the second variance, a voter marked a write-in space, then listed a qualified candidate already on the ballot,” Darling Allen said.

This caused the tabulator machine to identify the ballot as requiring adjudication. Unfortunately, the ballot was not adjudicated correctly.

A second audit, this time for a single-ballot issue in the City of Redding, was studied.

“There were no variances found between the manual tally and the (machine) tally,” she noted.

Dominion voting systems were first called into question by then-President Donald Trump, who claimed his “landslide victory” in the 2020 presidential election was stolen from him even though a series of 60 lawsuits filed on his behalf in various state courts failed to provide or cite any evidence of voter fraud that would have substantially changed the results.

Litigation filed by Dominion Voting Systems Inc. against Trump’s personal attorney, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, and a separate $1.6 billion defamation suit against Fox News and its parent company Fox Corp, after an array of Fox hosts and guests promoted false claims that Dominion threw votes from then-President Donald Trump to Joe Biden in the 2020 elections, according to a story published January 19, 2023, on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition newscast.

George Winship

George Winship is a long-time Shasta County resident with a wide range of professional and community experience. After earning a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Oregon, he joined the Redding Record Searchlight as an award-winning reporter, and was the paper’s first business editor. He worked as a district field representative for Senator Maurice Johannessen, and later became editor of the Anderson Valley Post. Winship is a former Shasta County Grand Jury member. He owns and operates The Village Wordsmith, where he edits and rewrites clients’ book manuscripts, and works as a researcher and freelance feature writer. He can be reached at gwinship@shasta.com.

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