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UPDATE: A bill has been introduced in the California Legislature, AB969, that seems aimed at Shasta County's move to hand counting ballots. Perhaps a Constitutional Amendment is in order!

Is Hand Counting Ballots Legal In CA?

Question: Does California Law Prohibit Counting Ballots by Hand?


The California Elections Code expressly permits the counting of ballots by hand.

(Manual Vote Count in the Precincts: Sections 15270-15281 


ARTICLE 5. Manual Vote Count in the Precinct [15270 - 15281]



This article applies to all elections in which ballots are counted by hand.



As soon as the polls are finally closed, the precinct board shall commence to count the votes by taking the ballots cast, unopened, out of the box and counting them to ascertain whether the number of ballots corresponds with the number of signatures on the roster. The precinct board shall make a record upon the roster of the number of ballots in the ballot box, the number of signatures on the roster, and the difference, if any.



The count shall be public and shall be continued without adjournment until completed and the result is declared. During the reading and tallying, the ballot read and the tally sheet kept shall be within the clear view of watchers.



Unless otherwise provided in this code, the precinct board members may not constitute themselves into separate squads in an attempt to conduct more than one count of the ballots at the same time.



The members of the precinct board may relieve each other in the duties of counting ballots.



Those ballots not rejected shall be placed in one pile, and the board shall proceed to count by tallying the vote for one or more offices or measures at a time.



The precinct board members shall ascertain the number of votes cast for each person and for and against each measure in the following manner:

One precinct board member shall read from the ballots. As the ballots are read, at least one other precinct board member shall keep watch of each vote so as to check on any possible error or omission on the part of the officer reading or calling the ballot.



(a) Two of the precinct board members shall each keep a tally sheet in a form prescribed by the elections official. Each tally sheet shall contain all of the following:

(1) The name of each candidate being voted for and the specific office for which each candidate is being voted. The offices shall be in the same order as on the ballot.

(2) A list of each measure being voted upon.

(3) Sufficient space to permit the tallying of the full vote cast for each candidate and for and against each measure.

(b) The precinct board members keeping the tally sheets shall record opposite each name or measure, with pen or indelible pencil, the number of votes by tallies as the name of each candidate or measure voted upon is read aloud from the respective ballot.

(c) Immediately upon the completion of the tallies, the precinct board members keeping the tally shall draw two heavy lines in ink or indelible pencil from the last tally mark to the end of the line in which the tallies terminate and initial that line. The total number of votes counted for each candidate and for and against each measure shall be recorded on the tally sheets in words and figures.



On completion of the canvass of the returns for each election, the elections official shall compare the vote by mail voters’ list with the roster for each precinct to determine if any voter cast more than one ballot at that election.



No precinct board member may make any tally of votes in any other manner than is provided in this article, nor in any place other than on the tally sheets provided for that purpose.



The ballots, as soon as all of the names and measures marked on them as voted for are read and tallied, shall not thereafter be examined by any person, but, as soon as all are counted, shall be carefully sealed in a strong envelope. The signatures of each member of the precinct board shall be written across the seal.



The precinct board shall complete, sign, and return to the elections official all furnished forms requiring its signatures.

When votes are counted at the precinct, all members of the precinct board, upon the completion of their duties, shall sign the following certificate of performance, which shall be substantially in the following form:

Certificate of Performance

for ____ precinct, for the ____ election, held on the ____ day of ____, (year).

We hereby certify that the total number of votes received by each candidate for each office and the total number of votes cast for and against each measure is as indicated on the tally sheets.

We further certify that the results of votes cast forms posted outside the polling place and transmitted to the county elections official show the total number of votes received by each candidate for each office and the total number of votes cast for and against each measure is as indicated.



The precinct board shall sign and post conspicuously on the outside of the polling place a copy of the result of the votes cast. The copy shall remain posted for at least 48 hours after the official time fixed for the closing of the polls. To protect a person’s right to cast a secret ballot under Section 7 of Article II of the California Constitution, in cases where fewer than 10 voters cast ballots and the precinct board tallies the results at the precinct, the precinct board shall post only the total number of people who voted at the precinct.

ARTICLE 6. Manual Vote Count in a Central Place



Ballots that are to be counted manually in a central place shall be transported as provided in Sections 15201 and 15202. Each counting board shall proceed to count and tally the ballots by precincts, separately, under the direction of the elections official or authorized deputies, in the same manner as provided where ballots are counted at the polling place pursuant to Article 5 (commencing with Section 15270).


Question: Is prior approval from the Secretary of State required to count ballots by hand?


Manual counting of votes is already authorized by laws that only the state legislature can repeal.


The Secretary of State certifies voting equipment and software.  

The Secretary of State DOES NOT choose whether to allow hand counting of ballots.  

This choice belongs to the County Board of Supervisors.

Counties may adopt any voting method, as long as any mechanical, electromechanical, or electronic systems or software used have been certified by the Secretary of State.  

California Elections Code Section 19207:

The governing board may adopt for use at elections any kind of voting system, any combination of voting systems, or any combination of a voting system and paper ballots, provided that the voting system or systems involved have been certified or conditionally approved by the Secretary of State or specifically authorized by law pursuant to Section 19209.

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