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A California county has dumped Dominion, leaving its election operations up in the air

In this 2021 file photo, a Georgia poll worker passes a Dominion Voting Systems ballot scanner. Dominion, which has been the subject of conspiracy theories since the 2020 election, was recently ditched by officials in California's Shasta County.
Ben Gray
In this 2021 file photo, a Georgia poll worker passes a Dominion Voting Systems ballot scanner. Dominion, which has been the subject of conspiracy theories since the 2020 election, was recently ditched by officials in California's Shasta County.

A county in Northern California has terminated its contract with Dominion Voting Systems, a company that's faced a barrage of election fraud conspiracy theories.

The controversial decision has now left the county without a way to conduct elections.

The county is Shasta County, which is small and rural and occupies the northernmost end of the Sacramento Valley. This deeply red part of a blue state has been embroiled in unproven claims of fraud since the 2020 election.

The county's Board of Supervisors has shifted more conservative in recent years, and the board's chair, Patrick Jones, led the charge to dump Dominion, which happened with a 3-2 vote by the supervisors in late January.

Jones has been highly critical of any kind of electronic voting machine.

"For people to say we have free and fair elections without knowing all the things that have been going on and the things that we know, it's just not true," he said at a meeting in late February.

Jones has focused his anger on Dominion, echoing attacks the company has faced by right-wing conspiracy theorists since the 2020 presidential election.

Donald Trump and his supporters have repeatedly — and falsely — claimed that Dominion machines were used to switch votes from Trump to Joe Biden.

And Dominion has launched a number of defamation lawsuits, including a high-profile case against Fox News that's currently being argued in court.

Regarding the decision in Shasta County, a Dominion spokesperson told NPR in a statement: "This is yet another example of how lies about Dominion have damaged our company."

Considering hand-counting — and a Mike Lindell cameo

Shasta County is now exploring a system that involves hand-counting ballots.

Mary Rickert, one of the two supervisors who voted against changing election systems, called it "a poor financial decision for us to terminate the contract with Dominion."

Rickert, who said she's "very risk averse," worried about "potentially opening up ourselves for litigation for Shasta County," referencing federal law that ensures disabled voters have a way to vote independently, which requires some form of mechanical or electronic voting machine.

Board Chair Jones believes that removing all machines from elections will increase trust in the results — even though research has found that hand-counting ballots is more expensive, more time-consuming and less accurate than using a machine.

"People make mistakes," said California Deputy Secretary of State Susan Lapsley, who traveled to Shasta County to advise the board. "It's hard; it's tough to sit here during the board meeting, but can you imagine sitting at a table for eight hours and doing this [hand-counting ballots]? It's tough and it's a lot of hard work."

One supervisor who voted with Jones, Kevin Crye, believes he's found a solution to possible accessibility lawsuits. He said he's solicited outside funding from the prominent election conspiracy theorist Mike Lindell, who himself is the target of a $1.3 billion defamation lawsuit from Dominion.

"I'm not about to waste money on anything, especially this," Crye said. "So I have secured the money and I will support upholding my decision. Because we will not use Shasta County money to go down this direction."

Crye said that Lindell will put money in an escrow account to pay for any legal fees the county might face from lawsuits.

That offer drew harsh criticism from the two supervisors not in support of the changes, including Tim Garman.

"You're trying to save the county money by putting it up for sale," Garman told Crye.

It's unclear what's next

Shasta County is the first in the state to get rid of Dominion.

Kern County in Southern California considered dropping Dominion as well, but in late February, after hours of debate, supervisors there took the opposite route and voted 3-2 to renew their contract with the company.

Shasta County's next scheduled election is the presidential primary in March of next year. But the county clerk, Cathy Darling Allen, said some municipalities want to hold their own elections later this year.

If the county wants to try counting ballots by hand, it would first need approval from the secretary of state, and have to submit a proposal for a voting pilot program at least nine months ahead of the next election.

Until then, without choosing another vendor, Shasta County doesn't have a way to conduct elections at all. That's left thousands of county residents even more confused about the trustworthiness of its elections.

Copyright 2023 Jefferson Public Radio. To see more, visit Jefferson Public Radio.

Roman Battaglia
Roman earned a degree in Digital Communications from Oregon State University in 2019. He now works as a radio journalism intern at Jefferson Public Radio through the Charles Snowden Program for Excellence in Journalism at the University of Oregon.