A bill that would ban the hand counting of ballots in most of California’s future elections passed the state Assembly Sept. 8, and was sent to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk to be signed into law.
Assembly Bill 969, authored by Assemblywoman Gail Pellerin (D-Santa Cruz), would require any regularly scheduled election with over 1,000 registered voters or special elections with over 5,000 registered voters to use state-approved machines, according to the bill’s text.
“[AB 969 will] ensure that all Californians have access to secure, auditable, and accessible voting systems. Voting systems are faster, more accurate, and a tried and tested way of counting votes,” Ms. Pellerin wrote on Instagram after the bill’s passage.
However, the legislation permits times when hand counting could occur, specifically during a natural disaster or states of emergency when utilizing an electronic voting system becomes impractical.
The bill, having garnered support along party lines, successfully cleared both legislative houses undergoing multiple amendments. Subsequently, it was returned to the Assembly for a final vote, where it passed Sept. 8.
The bill is a response to the Shasta County Board of Supervisors’ decision in January to cancel the county’s lease agreement with Dominion Voting Systems and to use hand-counting ballots instead, according to the bill’s analysis.
The supervisors later voted 3–2 to direct staff to develop procedures for a hand-counting system for submission to the California Secretary of State for approval.
Shasta County, located in the Northern part of the state, will have a special election Nov. 7 to fill a school board vacancy, three seats on a local fire district, and to vote on two local ballot measures.
However, if AB 969 is signed into law, it would be barred from conducting manual vote counts of its approximately 112,000 registered voters not only for its upcoming election, but also those in the future.
In support of the bill, the League of Women Voters of California, a Sacramento-based political organization, wrote in a recent statement that “Shasta County's precipitous moves places their elections at risk and diminishes the public's trust in elections.”
Without such a bill as AB 969, the organization said a preference for hand-counted votes could proliferate.
“Now there is the threat that these costly and destabilizing actions will be repeated in other California counties,” the organization said.
Additionally, the organization asserted that the labor-intensive process of hand-counting ballots poses significant challenges, making it hard to guarantee a prompt and precise election, especially when conducted on a large scale, according to the statement.
Those opposed to the bill, however, said machine voting had flaws.
“AB 969 dictatorially removes from the table any election model other than one fully reliant on the very technology that so many people world-wide not only believe but know to be unreliable and manipulatable. The Shasta County Board of Supervisors acted responsibly. They did their due diligence and established a clear plan to meet the needs of their county based on the evidence presented and considerations discussed. THIS is the role of local government!” the Election Integrity Project California, a local non-partisan election advocacy nonprofit, said in a statement.