Governor Signs AB 969 Legislation Wednesday; Under Urgency Clause, Ballot Hand-Counting Ban Takes Effect Immediately

California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed 16 pieces of legislation in Sacramento Wednesday, including one — Assembly Bill 969 — that will have a direct impact on Shasta County Elections, much to the chagrin of three county supervisors determined to hand-count ballots.

Under an urgency clause attached to AB 969 since it impacts upcoming special elections in early November and a presidential primary vote on March 5, the legislation takes effect immediately upon signing.

According to the Legislative Counsel’s official summary, AB 969 prohibits an elections official from performing a manual vote count in a semifinal official canvass in any contest in which there are more than 1,000 eligible registered voters as of 154 days prior to a regularly scheduled election date. Likewise, it prohibits an elections official from performing a manual vote count in a special election contest in which there are more than 5,000 eligible registered voters as of 154 days prior to the special election date.

In January, Shasta County Supervisors Patrick Jones of District 4, Kevin Crye of District 1 and Chris Kelstrom of District 5 voted to immediately and prematurely end the county’s eight-year contract with Dominion Voting Systems Inc. of Denver Colo., a move that ultimately was postponed until after Shasta County Clerk Cathy Darling Allen completed a special election on March 7 to elect a new council member for the City of Shasta Lake. The counting, verification and certification of that election took 28 days, pushing the contract termination into late May.

A Dominion ImageCast precinct-count optical-scan voting machine, mounted on a collapsible ballot box made by ElectionSource. Source: Wikipedia.

The supervisors were spurred on by a gaggle of election deniers who falsely claimed repeatedly in numerous public meetings the Dominion machines could be manipulated to change votes, despite a dearth of evidence to back up their claims.

After the 2020 presidential election, then-President Donald Trump refused to concede and his cohorts filed 61 lawsuits based on similar conspiracy theories, losing 60 of the lawsuits due to a lack of credible evidence of voter fraud, manipulation of voting machines and votes recorded for dead people, according to a University of Chicago Department of Political Science study conducted by Andrew Eggers, Haritz Garro and Justin Grimmer.

The 61st lawsuit was dismissed on technicalities.

Trump and 18 other indicted co-defendants are currently facing multiple felony charges in court cases filed in Georgia, Florida and Washington, D.C..

Meanwhile, in Shasta County, the Sheriff’s Department revealed Wednesday it is also conducting an investigation locally of conservative groups and election deniers, although details are not being released due to the on-going status of the investigation, said Tim Mapes, public information officer for the sheriff’s department.

“Recently, a media outlet inquired as to ‘what the Sheriff’s Office is investigating and why the people included in the request are part of the investigation?’ Our response to that inquiry was as follows: “What I can tell you right now is that the Shasta County Sheriff’s Office continues to work on the investigation referenced in the document you provided. Due to it being an open case, we do not have any further information that we can release at this time. Any assumption as to the nature of, and who is involved in, that investigation is just that,” wrote Tim Makes, Public Information Officer for the Shasta County Sheriff’s Department in an email sent to A News Cafe.

Gail Pellerin

Immediately after members of the California Legislature learned of actions taken by three of five Shasta County supervisors to cancel the vote counting contract, work on AB 969 began under the sponsorship of State Assembly member Gail Pellerin, a Democrat from Santa Cruz representing District 28. Pellerin was a former chief elections official in Santa Cruz County from 1993 until December 2020, when she began her campaign for California’s Assembly.

Pellerin received a journalism degree from Cal-Poly in San Luis Obispo and worked as a news reporter prior to running for county office in Santa Cruz. She is a good friend of Shasta County Elections Clerk Darling Allen and the two worked together as President and Vice President of a state-wide organization of election officials, Pellerin said.

“This was the first piece of legislation I sponsored to go from passage in the Assembly clear to the governor’s desk for signature,” Pellerin told A News Cafe in a telephone interview from her Sacramento office.

State Senator Steve Glazer (D) was one of several co-authors of AB 969 who helped Pellerin shepherd the bill through a maze of committees during the lengthy approval process. Glazer represents almost 1 million residents in Contra Costa and Alameda counties on the east side of San Francisco Bay, Pellerin noted.

Pellerin’s co-authors in the California Assembly included Blanca E. Rubio (D) representing the Assembly District 48, including 16 cities and communities surrounding West Covina, just east of Pasadena and El Monte; Alex Lee (D) representing Assembly District 24, including Fremont and Milpitas just south of Hayward on the east side of San Francisco Bay.

She also received support from Evan Low (D) representing Assembly District 26, including Sunnyvale and Santa Clara sandwiched between Mountain Gate and San Jose at the south end of San Francisco Bay; Steve Bennett (D) representing Assembly District 38, including Ventura County; and Tina McKinnor (D) representing Assembly District 61, including Inglewood and Hawthorne, just south of Santa Monica.

Pellerin even sought and received bi-partisan support from Tom Lackey (R) of Assembly District 34, including the cities of Palmdale and Lancaster, a portion of the Naval Air Warfare Center at China Basin, Fort Irwin and a large swathe of the Mojave National Preserve.

Pellerin introduced AB 969 for Assembly review on Feb. 14. The bill was passed by the Assembly March 27 and then made several trips back and forth from the Senate to the Assembly until it ultimately garnered a majority of Yes votes in the California Senate on Sept. 5. It was referred to the Governor’s desk for signing on Sept. 8, and was finally signed into law Oct. 4.

When Patrick Jones, chairman of the Shasta County Board of Supervisors, learned of the governor’s action Wednesday, he suggested the board majority will continue their efforts to conduct hand-counting during all elections.

Previously, Jones vowed Shasta County would sue the State of California for over-reaching its authority as a way to protect the county’s sovereignty.

Wednesday, he took a slightly different tack and suggested the state should sue Shasta County for disregarding AB 969.

Stay tuned, folks. As interesting and final as this latest development appears, it’s more likely we haven’t seen the end of Shasta County’s attempts to turn back the clock and count ballots by hand. 

Editor’s note: Bill Assayli was neither a co-author nor a supporter of the bill.
Clarification of  activity by the Shasta County Sheriff’s Office has been added.
A News Cafe regrets the errors.

If you appreciate career journalist George Winship’s accurate reporting, please consider a contribution to A News Cafe. 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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