A nonpartisan coalition of voting rights advocates has asked the California Secretary of State’s office to monitor upcoming elections in Shasta County because of concerns about safety and the spread of misinformation.
In a letter sent to Secretary of State Shirley Weber on Tuesday, members of six voting rights groups called for an “urgent, decisive, and sustained response from your office.”
Representatives from ACLU Northern California, the League of Women Voters, Disability Rights California, Verified Voting, California Common Cause, and the California Voter Foundation cite three reasons that Shasta County needs the state to provide extra election monitors in the November 2023 and March 2024 elections.
Earlier this year Shasta’s Board of Supervisors ended the county’s contract with Dominion Voting Systems after baseless claims of voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election. The supervisors cited unfounded assertions that Dominion machines were hacked in the 2020 election and led to the defeat of former President Donald Trump.
In their letter, the voting rights groups say that Board Chair Patrick Jones, one of the three far-right members, has indicated that the county will not adhere to new legislation which bars the hand counting of ballots. Newsom signed Assembly Bill 969, authored by Santa Cruz Democrat and former county clerk Gail Pellerin, on October 4.
“Supervisor Jones has been reported as having said “that the supervisors were still committed to implementing a hand count regardless of what the law says,” that “the county won’t follow that law (AB 969) and will instead file legal action as needed to continue forward with a hand count,” and that he believes AB 969 “‘does not affect Shasta County.’”
The groups also say there is “a high risk of voter confusion, distrust, and disenfranchisement due to the spread of misinformation and disinformation by Supervisor Jones and others who are aligned with his views and approach.” They include fellow Supervisor Kevin Crye, the subject of a local recall movement, whose recall election will be held next March.
“As can be seen at nearly every Board of Supervisors meeting, it truly threatens the electorate’s ability to discern the truth about how their upcoming elections will be administered and their confidence that their votes will be counted accurately and in accordance with the law,” the groups wrote.
Finally, the voting rights advocate said, the county elections office and the county clerk, Cathy Darling Allen (a chair on the California Voter Foundation board) simply don’t have the resources to manage both the implementation of a new voting system (which they must undertake since the Board ended its contract with Dominion), the monitoring of two elections and potentially dealing with potentially disruptive or violent observers.
Allen said her office is coordinating with local law enforcement and with the FBI. They have not received any specific threats.
“We’re just trying to be proactive at this point,” she said.
Allen was not involved with the October 24 letter, but welcomes any support from Secretary of State’s office.
“In my office, my staff and I are working hard ... we’re committing to making sure (voters’) voices are heard, and that their votes are counted accurately and quickly.”
The November 7 election will be a small one: a fire district formation election (the county hasn’t had one of these in about 50 years), and a contest to fill a school board seat vacancy in the Gateway Unified School District.
It will be the first election since the county terminated its contract with Dominion. Allen’s office will tally ballots with Hart InterCivic machines, which are used in several counties around the state, Allen said.
Some Shasta County residents are concerned with election safety and potential violence on Election Day.
“There is a concern about the safety of the individuals down at the election office,” said said Jeff Gorder, an organizer of Crye’s recall committee. He cited comments that Chairman Jones made last July on a podcast called Jefferson State of Mine, where he and the hosts talk about refusing to abide by any state law that bans manual hand tallies, and cite the Second Amendment as a means to fight back against “tyranny.”
“In his opinion, this is ‘the hill to die on,’” Gorder said. “It’s a pretty serious statement. What does that mean?”
Jones “accuses Cathy Darling Allen of lying and misleading,” Gorder said. “People at board meetings say she should be locked up, that she’s a criminal, that she perpetrated fraud ... given all those factors, I don’t think it’s unwise to be worried about the safety.”
He’s also concerned about election integrity.
“It’s not just safety, but interference, and attempts to overwhelm the election office,” said Gorder. “If officials are dealing with outside influences, how clearly are they able to focus on their responsibilities? It’s a perfect storm.”
The Secretary of State’s office did not respond to the requests made in the letter.
“We want to be clear that (AB 969) applies to elections throughout California,” said Joe Kocurek, the office’s deputy secretary for communications. “Including those conducted in Shasta County.”