Weeks after deciding to dump Dominion Voting Systems and become the largest government entity in the U.S. to hand-count its votes, Shasta County officials are now grappling with the complex logistics of actually carrying out that approach, accurately and legally, in a county of 200,000 people.
In a Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday spiced with angry personal attacks — and during which Supervisor Kevin Crye was served with recall papers on the dais mid-session— county staff told board members that hand-counting ballots could cost an additional $3 million over two years. The board ultimately voted to fund seven more staff positions to carry out the effort, even as flabbergasted citizens in the audience bemoaned what they said were absurd new expenses for a county struggling to provide healthcare and homeless services.
The board’s decision earlier this year to sever the county’s long-standing relationship with Dominion, one of the largest suppliers of voting machines and software in the U.S, has garnered national attention as an example of the chaos wrought by unfounded claims of voter fraud pushed by former President Trump and his allies after his failed 2020 reelection bid. Last week, Fox News agreed to pay Dominion $787.5 million to settle a defamation suit the company filed accusing the network of knowingly promoting false claims that its voting machines had been used to manipulate election results. As part of that settlement, Fox issued a statement acknowledging “certain claims” made on its programming about Dominion were false.
The fraud claims, nonetheless, found traction in Shasta County after a hard-right majority, including Crye, were elected to the board in November. Crye, the owner of a Ninja gym with no previous experience in elected office, recently announced he has been in touch with MyPillow Chief Executive Mike Lindell, a prominent pro-Trump election conspiracy theorist, about aiding Shasta in its plan to pilot its own voting system.
Shasta’s shift from a mechanized voting system has provoked concern among a number of civic groups, including the League of Women Voters and the American Civil Liberties Union, which have implored Shasta County to reconsider.
On Thursday, the Assembly passed a bill that would make it more difficult for any other California county to follow Shasta’s lead. AB 969, which now heads to the state Senate, would require a county board of supervisors to have a signed contract in place with a new voting system that meets state approval before canceling a contract with an old one. The bill was sponsored by Assemblywoman Gail Pellerin, a Democrat who formerly served as registrar of voters in Santa Cruz County.
At Tuesday’s board meeting, Supervisor Mary Rickert implored her colleagues to reverse their decision, saying it was “irresponsible” and ”terribly reckless.”
“I am horrified with what is happening in Shasta County,” she told them. “This is going to be your legacy.”
Supervisor Patrick Jones, who spearheaded the movement to dump Dominion, shot back: “This is going to be our legacy. We are going to have free and fair elections in Shasta County.”
That prompted Crye to pipe up that his legacy “is not going to be in politics.”
“My legacy is going to be how I serve the Lord,” he continued. “That’s my faith first, and my family second, and definitely children third.”
Many in the audience, meanwhile, beseeched the board to rethink the move. “You are building an inefficient, costly voting system predicated on lies and misinformation,” Susanne Baremore told the board. “Bring us back to the 21st century.”
Other speakers said there was “no justifiable reason” to abandon machines to count votes, noting they have proved to be more reliable than hand-counting. “Three million [dollars] in additional expenditures in the next two elections,” said one man. “Where are you going to pull that money from? What law enforcement agency or fire department? Why would we do this?”
Jones countered at one point that for some in the audience, “money seems to be more important than making sure our elections are fair.”
“Someone had to go first,” Crye said, referring to Shasta’s decision to adopt hand-counting so soon before the next election.
Cathy Darling Allen, the county’s elected registrar of voters, opposed the decision to renounce machine voting. But given the board’s unrelenting stance, she’s tasked with figuring out how to conduct a valid balloting process before the county’s next election, set for November.
“In a normal world, a policy change would have preparation and a research phase,” said Darling Allen, the only Democrat elected to countywide office in Shasta. “We are doing it on the fly.”
Still, she said, she is committed to ensuring a free and fair election, and for months has been consumed with little else. Nobody, anywhere, she said, “is counting ballots by hand at the scale of the number of registered voters that we have.”
As of this week there are more than 110,000 registered voters, according to the Shasta County clerk and registrar’s website.
Initially, she had hoped that November’s election could serve as a small trial run before the larger presidential primary in March. The only jurisdiction in Shasta with an election planned was the Gateway Unified School District, which has an open seat in an area with about 8,500 people.
But officials didn’t count on another trend becoming more common in Shasta County: recalls.
Some voters are now talking of mounting recall efforts targeting two other board members in the Gateway district. There is talk of another recall in the Anderson school district. And the potential recall of Crye, who was served papers at Tuesday’s board meeting.
“Supervisor Crye, you have betrayed the trust of District 1 voters,” Jeff Gorder, the county’s former public defender and a spokesperson for the recall group, said at the meeting.
The recall petition alleges that in just four months in office, Crye had “brought nationwide ridicule and embarrassment to our county through his actions and voting.” The petition castigated him for throwing out the voting system with no plan for how to replace it, and for seeking “input from discredited election denier and voting conspiracist Mike Lindell.”
Crye did not respond to a request for comment. But in an interview with local TV news station KRCR ABC 7, he dismissed the recall effort as “the work of liberal Democrats against a conservative Republican.”
“I’m going to weather this,” he said. “And I’m going to come out much stronger.”