A Trinity County grand jury report released in December had nothing but praise for the ballot processing and tallying done by the Trinity County Elections Department chief and staff in both the 2019 and 2020 presidential elections. The grand jurors’ only negative finding was that a larger space is still needed to accommodate election observers.

The grand jury seated for 2019/2020 was extended for six months due to the coronavirus pandemic. All members chose to remain sworn for the additional six months ending in December 2020. In both the primary and presidential elections, the process of counting votes was observed by various members of the extended grand jury.

All ballot handling and tallying activities by Elections Official Shanna White were witnessed by one or more members of the grand jury, from the arrival and securing of raw ballots from polling places in 2019 and from remote polling boxes in 2020 to the final hand tally of selected ballots.

According to the grand jury report issued in December, the result was “a unanimous vote of confidence in the elections process as practiced by the Trinity County office responsible for elections. The Trinity County elections clerk and her team’s efforts to conduct the process systematically and accurately were commendable, in our estimation. The workers seemed dedicated to the task at hand, and with the redundancy of counting and accountability for each ballot, the entire process appears to have been conducted with integrity and accuracy. The close attention to security of ballots in locked cabinets between actual processing operations was also observed.”

The jurors’ only complaint was that observation space was not sufficient to allow observers to actually read the contents of each ballot. The process can be observed from a distance of several feet, but not the actual markings on a ballot. The situation in 2020 was further aggravated by COVID-19 restrictions that held observers outside of the workroom with a double glass window blocking all sound and hindering the ability to monitor screens during the operation.

The previous 2018/2019 grand jury also recommended the allocation of more space for observers and in its response, the Trinity County Board of Supervisors agreed with the recommendation. However, no timetable was given and changes were not made.

The new report said the recommendation “must not be ignored,” and noted that election departments throughout the state use temporary space to accommodate room for observers. It recommended that supervisors plan for the next election by finding space to accommodate the required observers.

Sup. Liam Gogan was selected by the board to draft a response to the report for the board to approve before the due date of March 11.

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