Welcome to the 19th Century: Shasta County Plans to Bring Back Hand-Counted Election Ballots

Shasta County Elections Department administrators and staff are scrambling to pack up and return leased Dominion Voting Systems Inc. machines, precinct voting kiosks, printers, sorters, optical readers, computers, memory cards and other assorted paraphernalia following the March 28 decision — on a 3-2 vote by county supervisors — to cut ties with the company and return to hand counting all ballots.

Dist. 1 Supervisor Kevin Crye, Dist. 5 Supervisor Chris Kelstrom and Dist. 4 Supervisor/Chair Patrick Jones all voted to cancel the Dominion voting systems.

Dist. 3 Supervisor Mary Rickert and Dist. 2 Supervisor Tim Garman voted to rescind Crye, Kelstrom and Jones’ previous vote that rejected the Dominion machines. Twice Supervisor Rickert made substitute motions to reinstate the Dominion voting machines, but she was overruled by the Jones, Kelstrom and Crye board majority.

What might the process look like? One only has to look to neighboring state Nevada where Nye County officials chose to do a hand count of their November 2022 midterm election ballots as a double-check on their voting machine tally.
Best known as the home of the nation’s former nuclear weapons test site, Nye County is an old silver mining region some 60 miles west of Las Vegas. It is home to about 50,000 residents, including 33,000 registered voters.

In an article written by Jessica Hill published by the Las Vegas Review-Journal on Nov. 10, 2022, Hill describes what she observed.

“Sitting at tables in groups of three, about 54 volunteers at the Nye County’s Valley Conference Center marked the results of paper ballots on a tally sheet with felt-tip pens — which make it clear if a volunteers tries to tamper with a ballot — before passing them to the next person to double-check their results.
“The volunteers wear gloves to prevent anyone from using graphite under their fingernails to change the results on the ballots. Once they go through each race, another volunteer makes sure all three reviewers counted the same number of votes.”

Like Shasta County, Nye County Commissioners voted last March to have an all-paper ballot and hand-count system for the upcoming midterm election in November. They did so after being bombarded with complaints by residents who have listened for nearly two years to conspiracy theories related to voting machines and false claims that the 2020 presidential elections as stolen from former president Donald Trump.

Trump won 69 percent of the vote in Nye County.

Unlike Shasta County, Nye election officials decided to keep their Dominion electronic tabulating machines as a backup and for preparing the county’s official election results which must be reported promptly to the Nevada Secretary of State, Hill’s story states.

Termed an “experiment” to “test for process” by Nye County’s new Elections Clerk Mark Kampf, the hand-counting process will “act as an audit and a double-check” of official reports.

An outspoken election denier who repeated false claims Donald Trump won the 2020 presidential election, Kampf was appointed to the Elections Clerk position last August when the previous clerk, Sam Merlino, retired after disagreeing with county commissioners regarding the hand-counting of ballots, Hill’s article states.

According to Hill’s story, Kampf and his volunteer crew spent eight days counting 2,700 to 3,000 ballots per day. However, on the first day the volunteers could only complete 500 ballots per hour due to frequent recounts required whenever tally marks differed.

Election workers process ballots at the Maricopa County Tabulation and Election Center on November 10, 2022 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Joshua Lott/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Kampf also told Hill he needed to dismiss a few volunteers, some of whom were older and were experiencing difficulty with repetitive counting tasks.
Nevada election laws allow the processing of early-return ballots even before Election Day, however because some of Kampf’s volunteer talliers were announcing the results out loud, Nye County ran afoul of another state law prohibiting disclosure of results before all voters had an opportunity to cast ballots, Kampf told Hill.

The early hand count was subsequently halted on orders from Nevada’s Secretary of State, Kampf said.

Meanwhile, in Arizona’s rural Cochise County last November, two Republicans who represent a majority on the county’s three-member elections board withdrew a lawsuit seeking to force their own Elections Director, Lisa Marra, to hand-count all 42,000 ballots cast by voters who appeared in person on Election Day or who mailed their ballots in early, according to Associated Press writer Bob Christie, in a Nov. 17, 2022, article.

Initially, the lawsuit required a full hand-count of all ballots cast by the county’s 87,000 registered voters.

However, the county’s elected prosecutor advised the two — Supervisors Peggy Judd and Tom Crosby — they would be committing a felony if they tried to take the ballots from Marra, who refused to go along with the lawsuit’s provisions, the AP reported.

Further, the Cochise County hand-count legal fight threatened to delay a required statewide certification of election results set for Dec. 5, 2022, Christie noted.

“The push to hand-count ballots in the Republican-heavy county that is home to the iconic Old West town of Tombstone gained impetus from false claims by former President Donald Trump and his allies of widespread fraud and voting machine conspiracy theories,” Christie writes.

More recently in Michigan, the Lansing State Journal reprinted an April 2 story by Evan Sasiela of the Ionia Sentinal-Standard describing another political battle regarding hand-counts of ballots for the upcoming May 2 election.

“Ionia County will continue to utilize an optical scan machine for the May 2023 election after a request to hand count paper ballots was denied,” Sasiela writes.
“The Ionia County Board of Commissioners voted 6-0 at its March 28 meeting to deny a request from the Ionia County Republican Party for a paper ballot hand count in the May 2 election.

“Kristie Walls, vice chair of he Ionia County Republican Party, said the request was made due to the election software being close-sourced — meaning it can only be accessed by the manufacturer — and that tabulation equipment has components made in China,” Sasiela writes.

Why are so many people spouting conspiracy theories without any credible evidence to back up their claims?

Psychologist Sophia Moskalenko, who researches issues such as mass identity, inter-group conflict and conspiracy theories, recently teamed up with Mia Bloom, a professor at Georgia State University and a member of the Evidence-Based Cybersecurity Research Group. Together, they co-wrote and published “Pastels and Pedophiles: Inside the Mind of QAnon” to reveal some answers.

“The people who fabricated the Dominion voting machine controversy didn’t have much imagination and seemingly copied a storyline from a 2006 film entitled Man of the Year.

“The film, starring Robin Williams as a Jon Stewart-like comedian, runs for president as a joke but wins. A computer programmer discovers a voting machine algorithm confused by double consonants or vowels defaulted votes to Williams’s character,” Bloom and Moskalenko write in an introductory chapter titled Loony Lies and Conspiracies.

“For a group that claims to hate Hollywood as much as it does . . . it certainly plagiarizes a lot of their mythology from Hollywood scripts,” the co-authors note.

In an October 23, 2022, broadcast of 60 Minutes on the CBS television network, Anderson Cooper interviewed Dominion CEO John Poulos in regards to Dominion’s eight lawsuits seeking more than $10 billion in damages against Fox News and other networks, corporations and individuals related to spreading unsubstantiated claims that Dominion Voting Systems rigged the 2020 presidential election.

Poulos is Canadian and founded Dominion in 2002. He remains the company’s chief executive after it was acquired by an American investment group in 2018. Dominion is now based in Denver, Colorado.

Anderson Cooper: “President Trump first mentioned Dominion in a tweet Nov. 12. He then recorded a video a few weeks later posted on Facebook,” according to a script of the segment obtained by A News Cafe.

60 Minutes then aired the president’s video message.

President Trump: “We have a company that’s very suspect. Its name is Dominion. With the turn of a dial or the change of a chip, you could press an button for Trump and the vote goes to Biden. What kind of a system is this? We have to go to paper. Maybe it takes longer, but the only secure system is paper.”
Anderson Cooper to Poulos: “Why not just have paper ballots?”
John Poulos: “We do have paper ballots. What the machines do is count those paper ballots — in a way that makes it very easy for people to verify after the fact through the means of audits and recounts.”

60 Minutes then aired a brief segment in which Poulos demonstrates two machines: One is a ballot marker, a touch-screen device a voter uses to mark choices and then print out a paper ballot. The second is an optical scanner that reads the paper ballot, counts the vote and immediately stores a digital image of the ballot securely on internal memory.

John Poulos: “Our goal is to allow any voter to make their marks on a paper ballot in a very clear, unambiguous way, regardless of physical ability.”

60 Minutes then showed an interview with Chris Krebs, director of the federal cybersecurity and infrastructure security agency charged with protecting the 2020 election. He was fired days after the election by President Trump.

Chris Krebs: “It’s completely and utterly surreal. None of these lies have been substantiated to any extent. They — they — every single one of them has been debunked.”
Anderson Cooper: “How secure was the 2020 election?”
Chris Krebs: “Let me put it this way. It was the most litigated. It was the most scrutinized. It was the most audited. This election was put through the wringer from so many different directions. And what — what I tend to say is, ‘Don’t listen to me. Listen to (then-Attorney General) Bill Barr.”

60 Minutes then played a video comment from Bill Barr.

Bill Barr: “These claims on the Dominion voting machines were idiotic claims. I saw absolutely zero basis for the allegations, but they were made in such a sensational way that they obviously were influencing a lot of people.”

Forward, into the Past

So, here we are in Shasta County, waiting for election officials to acquire a new ballot preparation system, 75 new precinct voting booths for the aged, physically handicapped or visually impaired and the software and other assorted accessories needed for proper operation.

As well as the interviews, background checks and vetting required to seasonally hire an estimated 1,300 people who will count by hand the ballots generated by 111,653 registered voters in a population, according to 2021 estimates based on the 2020 census, numbering 182,139.

Just like they did back in 1849!


If you appreciate journalist George Winship’s investigative reporting, please consider supporting A News Cafe with a contribution. Thank you!

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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