By Zachary Stieber
California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed legislation on Oct. 4 that bans hand counts in nearly all elections in California, drawing opposition from at least one county.
Mr. Newsom, a Democrat, signed Assembly Bill 969, authored by Assemblywoman Gail Pellerin, also a Democrat. The bill took effect immediately.
The law forbids any election officials from performing a manual vote count in an irregular election with more than 1,000 registered voters or a regular election with more than 5,000 voters.
Exceptions are available to officials who receive approval from the California secretary of state. Other exceptions are available in the wake of a natural disaster or during states of emergency.
The bill “puts in important guardrails to ensure that California’s elections remain accessible, accurate, and auditable,” Ms. Pellerin wrote in a social media post after Mr. Newsom signed the measure.
“By clarifying the conditions under which a manual count may be performed, AB 969 ensures that no California voter will be disenfranchised by the actions and decisions of ill-informed political actors. AB 969 also requires the use of a federally qualified, state-certified voting system,” she added.
The state Assembly approved the bill in September in a 62–14 vote, following a 31–6 vote in the state Senate. All the votes against it came from Republicans.
The League of Women Voters of California is one of the groups that supported the bill.
Without such a bill, the organization said a preference for hand-counted votes could proliferate.
“There is the threat that these costly and destabilizing actions will be repeated in other California counties,” the organization said previously.
The Election Integrity Project California is among the organizations that opposed the legislation.
“AB 969 dictatorially removes from the table any election model other than one fully reliant on the very technology that so many people worldwide not only believe but know to be unreliable and manipulatable,” the group said recently.
A spokeswoman for Mr. Newsom told ABC that hand counting isn’t realistic.
“It’s not just impractical to hand-count, but it harms the election process. It will cost more and slow down our election results significantly,” said spokeswoman Erin Mellon. “Unfounded conspiracy theories have undermined our elections. California is focused on ensuring free and fair elections.”
Shasta County Resistance
Shasta County, which has about 112,000 voters, earlier this year moved toward holding future elections entirely with paper ballots, with results counted by hand. Members of the county Board of Supervisors who approved the plan said it’s a way to avoid cyber attacks.
Board Chairman Patrick Jones, who supports hand counting, said the county still plans to hand count votes in upcoming elections in November 2023 and March 2024.
“I’ve asked legal counsel to weigh in on this. And I believe that it does not affect Shasta County,” Mr. Jones told the Redding Record Searchlight.
Officials in the county have been waiting for Secretary of State Shirley Weber to accept their hand count plan, but it hasn’t been approved yet, Mr. Jones said.
“She’s simply dragging her feet on this. But we have already made our decision. And a majority of the board has already spoken,” he said.
Ms. Weber’s office told The Epoch Times in an email: “The secretary of state reviewed the proposed Shasta County plan and has provided feedback. However, the regulations relating to manual tallying that outline the requirements of and process for a plan have not been approved by the Office of Administrative Law.”
Mr. Jones said in the past that the county would sue the state over the plan, but he told the Record Searchlight this week that it might not.
“As far as I’m concerned, we push forward. The state may want to sue us,” he said.
He also told ABC, though, “If they try to stop us from hand counting, then there will be litigation.”
Ronnie Schaefer, an elections consultant, told the California Globe that the bill will likely be challenged in court.
“We’re going to see a challenge soon, likely with some sort of add-on saying that they want the bill blocked as the suit goes through the legal system,” he said. “If that does happen, we’ll likely see hand counts continue until at least the 2024 primary in March.
Shasta County Clerk Cathy Darling Allen told outlets that she plans on proceeding with a machine count.
Shasta County usually votes for Republicans, while much of the rest of the state votes for Democrats.
Democrats hold both state chambers and the governor’s office in California.
Ms. Pellerin previously referred to the county’s board of supervisors as “rogue” and accused supervisors of attempting to “derail elections.”
“That is something we can’t tolerate and accept in the state of California,” she said.
The Election Integrity Project California said that county officials acted responsibly in formulating the hand count plan.
“Officials did their due diligence and established a clear plan to meet the needs of their county based on the evidence presented and considerations discussed,” the group said. “THIS is the role of local government!”
Sophie Li contributed to this report.