The Nevada County, CA resident, Amy Young, has been engaged in a months-long battle to obtain election records from her local elections office. In December 2021, Young submitted an open records request for digital ballot images, audit logs, tabulator tapes, and cast vote records. However, her request was repeatedly denied by county officials.
Frustrated by the lack of cooperation, Young decided to escalate the matter by bringing it to her county’s Board of Supervisors in August 2022, just one week before the election records could be lawfully destroyed. She filed a petition for a writ of mandamus and requested an injunction to preserve the records. The county eventually handed over the cast vote records but continued to refuse to provide the other requested records.
Despite the county’s claim that the records were exempt from the Public Records Act, San Francisco County had publicly posted many of these records, demonstrating that they did not contain any identifiable information. Young, determined to shed light on the situation, took the matter to court.
After five months of litigation, the court ordered Nevada County to hand over a sample of the audit log that Young had requested. The judge allowed the county to redact any information and submit a “generic description of the redacted data” if there was a legal basis for non-disclosure. However, the registrar of voters, Natalie Adona, handed over a nearly entirely redacted sample page without offering any explanation as ordered by the court.
In response, Young submitted unredacted audit logs from Stanislaus County, which used identical voting machines, to show that the requested data could be anonymized without unnecessary redactions. The Sierra Thread reported on the case and highlighted the arguments made by both parties. Nevada County officials claimed they did not possess the requested records and suggested that Young’s requests exposed them to potential threats of violence from third parties. However, the court ultimately ruled in Young’s favor, ordering the release of all public records requested, except for digital ballot images.
The judge gave Nevada County until July 21, 2023, to comply with the order and turn over all election records related to Young’s request. This outcome was a significant victory for Young and Californian citizens, as it ensured transparency in local elections. However, it came at a cost. On October 3rd, the judge ruled that Nevada County must pay $85,000 in legal fees and costs to Young. While Young achieved transparency and accountability, the financial burden fell on the county’s taxpayers.
In a public statement after the hearing, Young expressed that the costs could have been avoided if the Board of Supervisors and county counsel had taken her concerns seriously when she initially addressed them in June 2022. This victory, though bittersweet, emphasizes the importance of public oversight and holding election officials accountable.
The case in Nevada County highlights ongoing concerns about election transparency and the efforts some individuals are making to ensure that their right to access public records is upheld. The article also touches on the broader context of election regulations in California. The recent passage of AB 969, which mandates the use of state-certified election machines, has raised questions about the potential impact on manual vote counts and the ability of counties to ensure accurate and transparent elections.
While Young’s battle for transparency in Nevada County has been challenging, her determination has paved the way for greater accountability in local elections. As the court’s decision demonstrates, transparency is paramount, and the public has the right to access records that can shed light on the electoral process.