With unfounded fraud claims swirling, red California county dumps Dominion voting machines
Swept up in unproven voter fraud claims, the Shasta County Board of Supervisors has upended the county’s election process, canceling its contract with Dominion Voting Systems and opting this week to pursue, among other options, the possibility of counting votes by hand.
Supervisor Kevin Crye, part of a newly empowered hard-right majority on the board, also announced at Tuesday’s board meeting that he had been in touch with MyPillow Chief Executive Mike Lindell, a prominent pro-Donald Trump election conspiracy theorist, about supporting a pilot voting system in the rural Northern California county.
On the same day, in another Republican-controlled county 400 miles south, Kern County supervisors narrowly voted to keep Dominion as the county’s voting system, but not before listening to hours of testimony from residents who were convinced the system was rigged.
Dominion is one of the largest suppliers of voting machines and software in the U.S., and currently runs voting machines in 41 of California’s 58 counties. After President Trump lost the election in 2020, his supporters spent months propagating baseless conspiracy theories about Dominion, including false accusations that the company’s machines were used to throw votes from Trump to Joe Biden and that Dominion — a company based in Colorado — was a corrupt tool with ties to the Venezuelan government. Those allegations were given heavy airing in right-wing media, including on Fox News.
The actions in California’s halls of local government come as Dominion is waging a vigorous legal battle against Fox, alleging that the network’s top leaders knew the claims of voter fraud in the 2020 election were false, but gave Trump’s lawyers and other election deniers a high-profile forum to spread their unfounded claims because it was good for ratings. Dominion is seeking $1.6 billion in damages.
Dominion has also sued Lindell for defamation after he spent millions advertising election denialism alongside his pillows.
In an interview Wednesday from an airplane on descent into Washington, D.C., Lindell said he was “pretty proud” of Shasta. “Every county should do that,” he said. “I think that’s great that they’re leading the way in California.”
In a statement, Dominion said Shasta County’s decision was “yet another example of how lies about Dominion have damaged our company and diminished the public’s faith in elections.”
Lawyers believe Dominion has a powerful argument against Fox News. Evidence so far, including Rupert Murdoch’s deposition, is already giving the conservative network headaches.
Faith in the election system has been a burning issue in Shasta County for months.
The county has been in near political chaos for more than a year after far-right activists, including members of a local militia, led a successful recall of a Republican supervisor and former police chief, in part because he enforced state-mandated coronavirus restrictions.
In June, two members of the Board of Supervisors voted not to accept Shasta’s results in the primary election, questioning the validity of Dominion voting machines and proposing a forensic audit of the elections process.
Their efforts were defeated at the time. But in November, two more candidates backed by hard-right groups were elected to the board, setting the stage for Tuesday’s outcome.
Even in a county accustomed to public meetings rife with rancor and personal attacks, Tuesday’s session was notable. The meeting stretched 13 hours and featured passionate comment from residents on both sides of the issue, as well as some bitter exchanges.
Representatives from the California secretary of state were also on hand. However Shasta County decides to tally its ballots, the county will have to abide by state and federal election laws. The secretary of state tests and certifies all voting equipment for security, accuracy and accessibility, and ensures election laws are enforced. The California attorney general has also written the county, according to local officials, warning them to follow the law in ensuring residents are not disenfranchised.
Board Chairman Patrick Jones, who spearheaded the voting system changes, said that he intends to follow election laws, but that many in his county do not trust electronic voting machines.
“There is a great sense they would like to return to something simpler and safer, and more secure from outside hacking,” he said.
Supervisor Mary Rickert, one of two board members who voted to keep Dominion, said she believes the effort is more far-reaching. She and local staff noted that ditching Dominion could cost the cash-strapped county hundreds of thousands of dollars in extra expenses because the county will have to pay to have the voting machines removed.
“You don’t understand, our government is being overthrown,” she said in an interview.
Column: Extremists are set to take over this California county. Will more of the state be next?
Democracies can fall one town at a time. In Shasta County, a militia and its supporters have put their plan into action.
One of the more stunning moments came when Crye made the bombshell announcement that he had reached out to Lindell about the plan to return to hand-counting votes.
According to an email Crye read, Lindell vowed that if Shasta faces “any pushback, including lawsuits ... I will provide all the resources necessary, both including financial and legal, for this fight.”
In the Wednesday interview, Lindell said he would “absolutely” support Shasta financially should they face litigation, and repeated his oft-stated claims that all voting machines are faulty and must go.
At Tuesday’s board meeting, County Counsel Rubin Cruse told supervisors he could not provide a detailed opinion on the prospect of Lindell involving himself in the county’s election systems, as this was the first he was hearing of it.
At another point, the supervisors debated whether it was better to take money from a philanthropic foundation funded by Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Meta, or from Lindell’s bedding business fortune.
Rickert said she had concerns about “the optics of having Mike Lindell doing something like that. … Is that legal?” Crye responded that he had voted earlier to accept funds from Zuckerberg’s foundation to purchase a county building.
Another supervisor, Tim Garman, chimed in that he “didn’t agree with Mark Zuckerberg in any way, shape or form,” but that money from his foundation came without ideological strings attached. “You’re talking about someone coming in here with a huge political agenda, and I’m sorry, I just don’t agree with it,” he said, referring to Lindell.
On Wednesday, Shasta County’s clerk and registrar of voters, Cathy Darling Allen, who was reelected in June despite being a registered Democrat in a county that tilts overwhelmingly Republican, was still processing events. The whole episode, she said, had left her sad and speechless.
“I don’t really have a lot of words,” she said. “My focus is that we don’t have a voting system. That fact, it’s very concerning to me.”
In Kern County, meanwhile, what Board Chair Jeff Flores had assumed would be a fairly routine item on Tuesday’s board agenda — the renewal of a contract with Dominion that has been in place for almost a decade — devolved into contentious exchanges infused with suspicions about elections being rigged.
The board heard hours of testimony from residents convinced Dominion machines were vulnerable to hacking. “Those machines speak for themselves,” Taft resident Karen Boyd said. “They are corrupt.”
Ultimately, the board voted 3 to 2 to continue the contract with Dominion.
“This should be a simple vote,” said Flores, who added he wants the county to focus not on Dominion but on other ways it can improve its election system and tally votes more quickly. “We’ve had this system in place since 2014, so I don’t know why it’s an issue all of a sudden.”
Mia Bloom, a professor of communication at Georgia State University and co-author of the book “Pastels and Pedophiles: Inside the Mind of QAnon,” said she has a theory about why local governments are suddenly besieged with concerns about Dominion.
It is “all part of the ‘Stop the Steal’ conspiracy theory,” she said. “There has been a shift within the QAnon echo chamber to act more locally,” she added, and many adherents have determined: “We didn’t win nationally. Now, we have to work locally.”
The stories shaping California
Get up to speed with our Essential California newsletter, sent six days a week.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.