Bills of 2023 | Bill signed to limit hand vote counts in elections

Voters submit their ballot electronically in the voting booths at Rio Norte Junior High School in Valencia, Calif., on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022. Chris Torres/The Signal
Voters submit their ballot electronically in the voting booths at Rio Norte Junior High School in Valencia, Calif., on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022. Chris Torres/The Signal
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Editor’s note: The Signal is presenting CalMatters’ wrap-up stories on some of the key bills that reached the governor’s desk at the close of the 2023 legislative session. Here’s the CalMatters summary of a bill that requires machine counting of election ballots. 

Assembly Bill 969 bans hand-counting of votes, except in very narrow circumstances — in regular elections with 1,000 registered voters or fewer eligible to vote, and special elections with 5,000 voters or fewer.  

Other than those small elections, the bill requires election officials to use certified voting machines and prohibits them from ending a contract for such systems without having a replacement lined up. And the measure requires that any hand count plan must be approved by the secretary of state. 

The bill is in response to the new conservative majority on the Shasta County Board of Supervisors voting in January to end the county’s contract with Dominion Voting Systems, the target of election conspiracy theories from the 2020 presidential election.  

In March, the Shasta board voted to count votes by hand, starting with an election on Nov. 7. The measure would take effect immediately, so would apply to that election. Shasta County has voting machines — acquired for disabled voters — available. 

Who Supports It 

The Shasta County clerk, for starters. She agrees with Democratic Assemblymember Gail Pellerin, the bill’s author and a former Santa Cruz election official, who argues that hand counts are imprecise, as well as costly. The League of Women Voters of California also objected to the Shasta board’s actions. 

Who Is Opposed 

Shasta supervisors’ Chairperson Patrick Henry Jones told the Associated Press that the county will sue to stop the bill if it’s signed. He argues that election officials cannot guarantee that voting machines aren’t manipulated. “The state is now attempting to block us from being able to have a free and fair election without any outside influence,” he told the AP. Most legislative Republicans voted against the bill.  

Why It Matters 

As Shasta County shows, deep-blue California hasn’t been completely immune from objections fueled by the Donald Trump “Stop the Steal” movement. They surfaced in the 2021 gubernatorial election and again in the 2022 election. State and local election officials and Democrats are pushing back, and this bill is part of that effort.  

The Governor’s Call 

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Oct. 4 he signed the bill, without any comment. 

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