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Riverside County’s Dominion voting machines face backlash

Riverside Press-Enterprise logo Riverside Press-Enterprise 5/13/2022 Jeff Horseman, The Press-Enterprise

The uproar over Dominion Voting Systems machines has come to Riverside County.

At least 15 speakers urged the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, May 10, to stop using the technology in county elections. Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco is among those who signed a petition demanding the county get rid of Dominion machines, which are the subject of falsehoods and conspiracy theories stemming from the 2020 presidential election.

It’s unclear how many people signed the petition. While Dominion machines were not on Tuesday’s board agenda, a group of people concerned about the machines spoke at the meeting, and applause and cheers greeted those who demanded that supervisors do away with Dominion.

Speakers included Temecula City Council Member Jessica Alexander.

“I have had numerous constituents concerned about the Dominion machines and their susceptibility to being manipulated,” Alexander, who opposed a Temecula drag show and has compared her resistance to COVID-19 mask requirements to Rosa Parks’ struggle for civil rights, told supervisors.

“ … I am asking as your resident and elected official that you, as our county Board of Supervisors, place this item on the agenda in order to have the discussion and look into the possibilities of fraud.”

A civil grand jury investigation of the November 2020 election found no evidence of fraud. The Dominion machines are not connected to the internet and the county has safeguards to prevent voter fraud, a spokesperson said.

In an emailed statement, Bianco, who did not speak at Tuesday’s meeting, acknowledged signing a petition demanding the county stop using Dominion machines.

“I have had multiple conversations with people over the past couple years about the voting machines,” Bianco said. “I have never spoken to (District Attorney Mike) Hestrin about the machines, and unless we learn of something criminal, I can’t imagine ever having that conversation. I do support any and all efforts of audits and checks of the machines.”

John Hall, a Hestrin spokesman, said the DA has not signed the petition and “has not had any such conversations with Sheriff Bianco or anyone else” about Dominion machines. Hestrin also did not speak at Tuesday’s meeting.

Concerns about election integrity and voter fraud have been used to justify a series of new voting restrictions in states with Republican-controlled legislatures. But accusations of fraud on a scale to influence an election are so far baseless. The Associated Press found 475 potential instances of voter fraud out of 25 million votes cast in six battleground states — nowhere near what could change the results — in the 2020 presidential election.

Falsehoods about Dominion machines arose after Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump in 2020. Conspiracy theories spread online and through right-wing media falsely reporting the machines were hacked to give votes to Biden and falsely linking Dominion Voting Systems to the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, liberal philanthropist George Soros and the Clinton Foundation.

In March 2021, Dominion filed a $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit against Fox News, alleging the conservative network “broadcast a series of verifiably false yet devastating lies” about its voting machines and their alleged role in a debunked conspiracy to steal the election from Trump.

Many speakers at Tuesday’s meeting demanded a “return” to paper ballots.

The Dominion machines produce paper ballots, and every California voter receives a ballot in the mail that can be filled out and mailed back, deposited in a drop box or dropped off at a vote center before and during Election Day.

Also, most if not all of the county’s election rules and regulations come from the state, meaning the county has little flexibility in how it runs elections. The county recently established a citizens advisory committee to hear the public’s election concerns and brainstorm ways to improve elections.

Roughly 82% of Riverside County’s registered voters cast ballots in the November 2020 election, the highest turnout since at least 1999, if not in county history. Of those votes, 89% were cast by mail, according to the grand jury that looked into the 2020 election.

Those who want to vote in person can do so at the Registrar of Voters headquarters or at one of 145 vote centers that will start opening Saturday, May 28. Riverside County has 1,500 Dominion Imagecast voting machines, enough for 10 at every vote center in the upcoming June 7 primary election.

The county, which has 1.3 million registered voters, upgraded to the Imagecast machines in 2019 from an older Dominion voting system after the California Secretary of State decertified the county’s old machines, and the current system is one of only two certified by the state and federal governments, county spokesperson Brooke Federico said.

The machines let voters mark their choices on a touchscreen. The ballot is then printed out and the voter deposits it into a ballot box. The machines aren’t connected to the internet, Federico said via email.

Vote-by-mail ballots are checked to make sure they’re valid, with safeguards in place to prevent multiple ballots from the same voter being counted.

After Election Day, 1% of voting precincts are hand counted “to ensure every ballot is counted correctly,” Federico said, adding that Registrar of Voters Rebecca Spencer has done more than 20 hand recounts, all of which resulted in no change to an election outcome.

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