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Shasta Supes Vote 3-2 to Scrap Machine Votes in Favor of Hand Tally for Election Ballots

For the third time in as many months, Shasta County’s Board of Supervisors upheld a 3-2 vote Tuesday to scrap the county’s Democracy Suite 2.2 ballot counting system leased by Dominion Voting Systems of Denver, Colo., in favor of a hybrid hand tally.

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.

On a motion by Board Chair Patrick Jones, the county will continue to provide at least one voting machine kiosk in each precinct for use by handicapped, elderly, sight impaired or mobility challenged persons who cannot otherwise mark a paper ballot without assistance.

This bow to technology was inserted to satisfy federal and state requirements, he noted.

Jones’ motion, however, left it up to Elections Department officials and County Clerk Cathy Darling Allen to decide which brand of voting kiosks will be ordered, as long as they aren’t from Dominion.

Under California election laws, Darling Allen has two choices: kiosks manufactured by Hart InterCivic, Inc., of Austin, Texas, or Elections Systems and Software, Inc., (ES&S) of Omaha, Neb. These companies, along with Dominion, are the only pre-certified voting systems allowed by the California Election Commission and the Secretary of State.

Sales representatives from Hart and ES&S attended Tuesday’s marathon 11-hour meeting to tout the advantages of their company’s various products.

One question left unanswered by Jones’ motion, seconded by Supervisor Chris Kelstrom and supported by Kevin Crye is how much other equipment from the selected supplier of voting kiosks will be required to allow the kiosks to be operational.

“The county will need to purchase a ballot creation system and related software so that each kiosk can be properly programmed to provide the exact ballot style for each voter,” explained Karen G. Clakeley, Hart InterCivic’s Executive Director for Market Development.

Primarily for fiscal reasons, Supervisors Mary Rickert and Tim Garman remained steadfast in their support of continuing to use the Dominion voting system until the county can receive state certification on a hand tally plan.

“I am not comfortable with a hand count and ditching Dominion until we can have a hand count procedure that is certified. I am not going to open our county to that kind of liability,” Garman said.

Rickert said the initial vote to terminate Dominion’s contract Jan. 24 was a “reckless and hasty decision.”

Rickert and Garman attempted to provide a different outcome with a motion and a second, respectively, to overturn the previous 3-2 votes to prematurely terminate the Dominion contract. Rickert’s motion was made as an alternate course of action during discussion of Jones’ original motion as referenced above.

Following an extended period of back and forth arguments, County Counsel Rubin E. Cruse Jr. advised board chair Jones the alternate motion needed to be voted on first before the original motion could be considered. Rickert’s motion failed on 2-3 with Jones, Kelstrom and Crye voting against it.

“I’m tired to being used for your personal agenda,” she chastised Jones. “The people I talk to are mad. It’s a huge waste of money,” Rickert continued.

“I am out and about throughout my district and the rest of the county and the people I talk to, people who work hard farming and ranching every day just to make a living, are mad. It’s a huge waste of money” Richert said, referring to the hand-count option and replacing Dominion equipment with another vendor.

The purchase price and 10 years of software licensing and support for either the Hart or ES&S voting system are nearly identical at almost $1.4 million, bids from each company show.

“The software comes with licensing and service fees, and the kiosks will need computer memory cards and batteries. The batteries need chargers and the kiosks also need laser printers with printer cartridges for report and ballot printing,” Clakeley explained.

For security, the kiosks and ballot creation computer system cannot be used unless the operator has a preassigned passcode and an electronic security token called a Verity Key, Clakeley’s bid sheet states.

Even if the county is able to find sufficient temporary employees to conduct the hand count of all paper ballots, a digital scanning device is needed to verify each ballot is properly signed by a registered voter before the ballot is opened for counting, stated County Clerk Darling Allen, who also serves as Registrar of Voters for Shasta County.

Shasta County Clerk/Registrar of Voters Cathy Darling Allen.

“It would also be helpful to have a tabulator machine we could use as a back-up system and as a way to verify the hand tally,” Darling Allen said, noting manual counts of ballots are less reliable than tabulation by optical scanning technology.

When asked by Jones what the typical error rate is for hand counted ballots, California’s Deputy Secretary of State Susan Lapsley said the error rate ranges from 1 percent to 25 percent, depending upon the length and complexity of the ballot and how the manual count is implemented.

Darling Allen estimated the Elections Department would need to hire up to 1,200 temporary employees at a cost of $1,651,209.68 to hand count up to 94,084 ballots, the number of ballots cast in the most recent 2020 presidential election. The number of ballots cast in Shasta County during the 2022 November general election was 68,9866 or 61.8 percent of the county’s 111,503 registered voters cast ballots.

Therefore, Shasta County taxpayers will be on the hook for upwards of $1.3 million for the purchase of complete voting systems from either Hart of ES&S as well as the cost of hiring enough temporary employees to ensure the county can meet reporting requirements from the Secretary of State as well as federal election reporting requirements, Darling Allen said.

“This does not include the cost of supplies and a secure facility large enough to accommodate all of the tables, chairs and amenities needed for three shifts of up to 400 people each counting ballots for eight hours straight,” she said.

“This is a huge, huge project. And remember, in California we cannot begin counting any ballots until precinct polling ends at 8 p.m. on election day,” she added.

California Elections Code also requires certification of election results within 30 days. For for presidential elections and presidential primaries, the federal government requires certification within 28 days, Darling Allen said.

“We cannot use volunteers because state election laws require anyone handling ballots to be fingerprinted and pass a stringent background check,” Darling Allen explained.

The supervisors’ deliberations were preceded by a nearly two-hour long parade of statements made by members of the public either in favor of hand counting or continuing with Dominion’s vote tally system.

“Quit wasting taxpayers’ money. Taking advice from Mike Lindell on voting systems is ridiculous,” stated City of Shasta Lake councilwoman Pamela Morgan as she urged supervisors to rescind their previous Jan. 24 and Feb. 28 decisions to terminate Dominion’s contract.

“There is too much debate over voting machines,” noted Elizabeth Walker.

“We want all ballots for all contests and all elections to be paper ballots and all hand-counted on election day,” Walker continued, adding, “Sacramento is watching Shasta County because they want to undermine our election process. Now is the time for Shasta County. You were elected for this time and this vote.”

District 1 resident Terry Little urged county supervisors to take politics out of elections and make all elections open and transparent for all voters.

“There is no proof the Dominion machines don’t work. Hand counting is inefficient and these voting machines aren’t even connected to the internet,” Little said.

Hand-count advocate Laura Hobbs noted replacing Dominion machines with machines from any other company is like “changing heroin dealers.”

Veteran Richard Christoff chastised the three board members who supported terminating Dominion as “not being fiscally conservative” and “prematurely pulling the contract” before they determined a viable option.

There were so many people attending who wanted to share their opinions that board chair Jones halted the meeting at 12:38 p.m. to allow supervisors and county staff members a 30-minute lunch break.

Upon resuming the meeting at 1:15 p.m., Darling Allen reminded the board of the time-critical need for a decision on the voting system issue.

“If we don’t have a certified voting system in operation soon, we will not be able to hold an Aug. 29 special election and we may not be operational in time to properly prepare ballots for the presidential primary scheduled in early March,” Darling Allen warned.

Just before 5 p.m., the board finally got around to voting on the issue after the power struggle described above.

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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