(CN) — All things considered, the special election in Shasta County this month went off without a hitch.
The local election in this Northern California county ordinarily wouldn’t have received much attention. A school district seat was up for grabs, and a fire protection district had three seats — along with three candidates — on the Nov. 7 ballot. Voters also weighed in on the creation of a fire protection district and a community services district tax.
But a move this year by the county Board of Supervisors drew the attention of state lawmakers and resulted in the recent passage of Assembly Bill 969.
That bill — written by Assembly member Gail Pellerin, a Santa Cruz Democrat — forbids manual vote tallies in a jurisdiction with over 1,000 registered voters.
It was in response to Shasta County supervisors casting aside their voting system lease with Dominion Voting Systems this past January. Two months later they told staff to make a procedure for manually counting ballots and pick a new vendor for voting equipment needed for people with disabilities.
The Oct. 4 passage of AB 969 gave Shasta County just over a month to change from its planned hand-count election tally to one done by machines.
“It was a rather smoothly run election,” said Joe Kocurek, communications director with the California Secretary of State’s Office. “No incidents that I know. At one point, there might have been some words exchanged.”
According to Kocurek, some people expressed their views on recent legislation, but he called it “nothing significant.”
That’s a far cry from what has come out of Shasta County this year. Claims of “election fraud” are prevalent in the county of some 182,000 people. In May, a sitting supervisor said there was fraud in his own race, which he won.
David Maung, a Shasta County spokesperson, said election fraud regularly is invoked by speakers during public comment at supervisor meetings.
Kocurek, who served as an election observer for the special election, saw no incidents. He and two colleagues rotated through the polling sites, calling the election workers “competent” and the people “friendly and gracious.”
“It was not great for news, but good for elections,” Kocurek quipped. “Nothing bad happened, as we could detect.”
It’s usual for the Secretary of State’s Office to dispatch observers to local elections. In Shasta County’s case, people were sent because it was the county’s first election with a new tabulation system, Kocurek said.
Kocurek’s office alerts local elections offices when state observers will appear. No formal report is made afterward, though any issues that arise are related to the secretary.
Other observers at the Nov. 7 election included the League of Women Voters.
According to Kocurek, there were no issues with accessibility to the polls and the vote tabulation.
State Senator Brian Dahle, whose district includes Shasta County, said he voted against AB 969, adding that he prefers local control. A Lassen County supervisor for 16 years before his election to the Legislature, Dahle was no fan of the state interfering in local matters. As a senator, he shies away from dabbling in local politics.
“I think the clerk got a system in place and it’s working,” Dahle said.
Shasta County Clerk and Registrar of Voters Kathy Carling Allen had prepared for the possible passage of AB 969. When the governor signed it into law, her office pivoted. However, she still showcased the manual vote tally process at a planned Oct. 5 open house — the day after Newsom signed the bill.
The top elections official for Shasta County said she thought it was a good idea to demonstrate how laborious it is to hand-count ballots.
“Some of the supervisors did come and sat and participated,” Allen said.
However, she added that she’s past the point where she believes she can change hearts and minds.
In a statement last week Allen said that her office continued to process ballots, which included verifying signatures and voter eligibility. Her office could receive ballots through Nov. 14 and she has until Dec. 8 to certify the vote, though on Friday she said she anticipates certifying her county’s election in the next week.
Allen has had election observers — which in California can be any voter — visit her office before, during and after this month’s election. They ran the gamut.
“One of them called the police on us twice because she said we were doing something we shouldn’t be doing,” Allen said. “No one was arrested.”
What’s important to Allen is that people know elections will continue to be held in her county. Some people grew concerned when Shasta County supervisors early this year canceled the contract with Dominion. They received mixed messages and didn’t understand.
“If nothing else, we’ve demonstrated that business continues as usual in Shasta County,” Allen said.
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