The California Voter Foundation joined with five other nonprofit, nonpartisan voter advocacy groups yesterday to request that California's Secretary of State, Dr. Shirley Weber, monitor and support upcoming elections in Shasta County, where controversies over voting equipment and ballot counting threaten election safety and accessibility and potentially undermine the security and accuracy of vote counts.
In a joint letter sent to California's chief elections officer on October 24, CVF along with the ACLU of Northern California, California Common Cause, Disability Rights California, League of Women Voters of California and Verified Voting called upon Secretary Weber to take several actions in response to "grave concerns, which we believe call for urgent, decisive, and sustained response from your office." The letter is available online and enumerates three concerns:
- The chair of the Shasta County Board of Supervisors, Patrick Jones, has made various public statements indicating an intention to pursue a manual tally of election results and not to follow California Assembly Bill (AB) 969, a new law enacted on October 4, 2023 with an urgency clause that prohibits a manual vote count for the semifinal official canvass in Shasta County’s November 2023 and March 2024 elections and requires use of a certified voting machine or voting system to tabulate the votes in those elections.
- The spread of mis- and disinformation by board members and others contributes to voter confusion and distrust. Claims by Supervisor Jones that the acquisition of the county's new Hart voting system (resulting from the supervisors' vote earlier this year to end its use of Dominion's voting system) was "fraudulent" and "unauthorized" undermine confidence in the election process.
- The Shasta County elections office's time and resources that they ideally would be spending on planning to deploy a new voting system, including new accessible voting machines, are being diverted, endangering the smooth administration of the upcoming elections and thus the rights of voters, including voters with disabilities.
The advocates' letter requests the Secretary of State exercise her authority by:
- Reminding Supervisor Jones and his colleagues that Shasta County is required to follow federal and state election laws, including AB 969:
- Arranging for staff from her office to conduct in-person monitoring of the November 2023 and March 2024 elections in Shasta County, including vote tabulation, for compliance with state election laws;
- Providing any assistance requested by Shasta County Registrar of Voters Cathy Darling Allen* in discharging her duties to the extent that she is faced with interference by other county officials or staff, individuals acting at their direction or on their behalf, and/or others; and
- Supplementing and supporting the Shasta County elections office’s voter education efforts leading up to the November 2023 election and both of the 2024 presidential elections to help ensure the dissemination of accurate information and to engage Shasta County residents in the democratic process.
The advocacy groups' letter was also sent to Governor Gavin Newsom, Attorney General Rob Bonta, AB 969 author and Assembly Elections Committee Chair Assemblywoman Gail Pellerin, Shasta County's five supervisors and Registrar Darling Allen. The request letter includes quotes and links to additional resources providing documentation of the statements made and concerns expressed.
CVF and its partners have collaborated throughout 2023 to respond to election challenges in Shasta County beginning in February, with a joint letter urging supervisors to reconsider their decision to terminate the county's voting system contract, warning it would harm the ability of voters to cast ballots in upcoming elections. The groups sent a second joint letter to Shasta supervisors in March explaining how computer technology is utilized to benefit the voting process and why relying solely on hand counts can produce inaccuracies and delay election results. Several of the partners also submitted joint comments on the Secretary of State's ballot counting regulations over the summer.
CVF and its partner organizations will continue to monitor election activities closely in Shasta County, where mailed ballots for a special election are already being returned and in-person voting will take place in less than two weeks, on November 7th.
* In the interest of full disclosure, CVF notes that Ms. Darling Allen also serves as the chair of CVF's board of directors.