Shasta County Elections Panel perpetuates the ‘Big Lie’; pushes for illegal hand-counting of ballots despite new state law

Shasta County’s right-wing leaders aren’t done with their obsession over the hand counting of election ballots.

The Shasta County Elections Commission voted 3-2 on Monday to forward a recommendation to the Board of Supervisors supporting a manual tally without using voting machines.

The push flies in the face of a bill signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom in October that requires the use of voting machines to determine outcomes for elections that have over 1,000 registered voters.

The vote isn’t surprising considering the three “yes” votes were by commissioners who were picked by the Board of Supervisors’ hard-right majority. Chairwoman Ronnean Lund was chosen by Supervisor Chris Kelstrom, Lisa Michaud was named by Supervisor Kevin Crye and Bev Gray was Supervisor Patrick Jones’ pick. Jones came to the meeting for a while and sat in the back.

Ronnean Lund chairs the Shasta County Elections Commission. She voted in favor of paper-ballot counting and stricter drop-box security during the meeting on Monday, Feb. 26, 2024. Photo by Mike Chapman.

Board approval of the recommendation could set the stage for a legal battle in court.

“How many times has a county fought the state over hand counting? None yet.” Michaud said. “But if there’s going to be a change, there’s probably going to have to be a fight because that’s how our society works.”

The panel also sent a request to the board for greater scrutiny of ballot drop boxes and heard from an Anderson resident who brought a mail-in ballot to the meeting that was addressed to his deceased wife.

The elections commission was Jones’ idea to review all aspects of Shasta County voting. Jones, along with Crye and Kelstrom, previously voted to get rid of the county’s Dominion voting machines, costing the county tens of thousands of dollars.

Meanwhile, as Assembly Bill 969 went into effect ahead of Shasta County’s November elections, Registrar of Voters Cathy Darling Allen followed the state law and used the county’s new Hart InterCivic voting machines. Allen said she will retire in May due to stress after 20 years in office.

Commissioners voting against the recommendation were Susanne Baremore, appointed by Supervisor Mary Rickert, and Dawn Duckett, chosen by Supervisor Tim Garman.

Shasta County Elections Commission member Susanne Baremore voted against two election-related recommendations the panel forwarded to the Board of Supervisors. In addition to being a commissioner, Baremore is one of four candidates for the District 2 supervisor seat. Photo by Mike Chapman.

Baremore noted how AB969 is now the law and supersedes any county push for hand counting. “Will it be litigated? Maybe. Probably. Who knows?” she said.

Speakers at the meeting gave opinions on both sides.

Steve Woodrum ticked off a list of debunked national election deniers who promoted the “Big Lie” of election fraud. He noted how Dominion successfully sued Fox News for lying about the presidential election.

Douglas Frank, who was invited by Jones to Redding, “is a chemist who finds election fraud wherever he looks,” Woodrum said. “Frank starts with a mathematical analysis of data and ends up with an excuse for vigilante foolishness.”

Woodrum said former Donald Trump attorney Sidney Powell falsely claimed the 2020 election was stolen. “She claimed no reasonable person would believe her, yet she made tons of money going across the nation exactly this,” he said.

Woodrum added that My Pillow CEO and Trump supporter Mike Lindell also had no proof of stolen elections. “Is Mike just lying or does he really believe his deceptions? These accomplish liars have hurt our nation,” Woodrum said.

Shasta County’s acting county counsel Alan Cox addresses the Shasta County Elections Commission on Monday, Feb. 26, 2024 in the board chambers. Cox did his best to steer the panel away from any Brown Act violations. Photo by Mike Chapman.

“I do not ridicule people who have fallen for these lies because these lying deceivers are very, very good at their evil work. But enough, it’s time to defend America,” he said.

Speaker Christian Gardinier, who’s had run-ins with the board majority, said the elections commission should be disbanded immediately “as the best thing for our community.”

Christian Gardinier, a frequent speaker at supervisors meetings, delivers a blistering assessment of the board majority’s actions with regard to keeping a county counsel. Photo by Doni Chamberlain.

“No judge ruling or adjudicated ruling from a Shasta County court has found any whatsoever voter fraud,” Gardinier said. “Most Shasta County taxpayers know that it’s time to end the charade.”

Community activist Nathan Pinkney (a.k.a. Nathan Blaze), a frequent critic of Supervisor Jones, called the commission’s work “a complete waste of time.”

“The fact that you’re even trying to do this and make this recommendation to the board to force a hand count – you don’t have the power,” he said. “Nothing this panel can do supersedes state law, which is in place.”

Nathan Pinkney, aka Nathan Blayz, is a frequent supervisors meeting speaker. Photo courtesy of Nathan Pinkney.

Pinkney said if right-wing Republicans have issues with losing elections, they should present higher-quality contenders.

“If you want to win elections, run better candidates – that’s all you have to do. This is a red county and you guys have a much better chance of winning elections if you stop running crappy candidates with shady pasts,” he said, in a reference to Supervisor Crye who faces a Tuesday recall vote.

“It’s not about election fraud or election interference … or any of this crap,” Pinkney said.

On the other side, speaker Jim Burnett said he’s not a fan of voting machines and called for the county to get rid of them.

“Our votes are so important that I can’t understand why more people don’t want transparency and want to make sure everything is above board,” Burnett said.

He said he doesn’t trust voting machines because of their exclusive software.

“They have their magic black boxes everywhere that we cannot see how those programs, algorithms, routines are even executed because they’re proprietary software,” Burnett said. “You can’t depend on them. And I think we should do everything we can to get rid of everything that’s electronic tabulation and get back to hand counting as soon as possible.”

The commission recommended that paper poll books should be used at the precincts “for transparency, election security and to maintain local control over Shasta County’s voter rolls.”

In reading the recommendation, Lund said, ballots brought to the precincts on Election Day should be counted at the precincts that day for transparency and citizen participation” so results would be available the night of an election.

The panel also heard from District 2 supervisor candidate Laura Hobbs, who’s running against Baremore, Allen Long and Dan Sloan. Garman, the current supervisor, isn’t in the race because he no longer lives in the district.

Hobbs said, in her opinion, California’s Constitution gives counties such as Shasta “the authority to decide for themselves how they want to govern, in the same way the U.S. government cannot tell the states how to conduct their elections.”

“The state of California cannot tell the counties how to conduct their elections. That’s right,” according to her thinking.

The board sent another recommendation to the board seeking better security for ballot drop boxes.

The panel wants drop boxes checked and emptied at least once a day during the 29-day voting period. The vote was 4-1 with Baremore dissenting. She thought the panel needed feedback from the Registrar of Voters office before approving recommendations.

Other suggestions include video surveillance of drop boxes and assurances that ballots have a verified chain of custody.

The panel also heard from Anderson resident Ken Morrow, who brought a mail-in ballot addressed to his wife who died in September 2022. Morrow told the commissioners he told the elections office about his wife’s passing, but still received a ballot anyway.

Baremore said the panel should’ve had more input from Allen and Assistant Registrar of Voters Joanna Francescut before making the recommendations because so many of the tasks fall under Allen’s authority.

“Her office should’ve been included in this process. There’s no one in this room who knows elections better than Cathy and Joanna do,” Baremore said.

The commission’s next scheduled meeting is March 11 in the Board of Supervisors chambers.
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Mike Chapman

Michael Chapman is a longtime journalist and photographer in the North State. He worked more than 30 years in various editorial positions for the Redding Record Searchlight and also covered Northern California as a newspaper reporter for the Siskiyou Daily News in Yreka and the Times-Standard in Eureka, and as a correspondent for the Sacramento Bee.

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