IInside the Shasta County Clerk and Voter Registrar’s office, which conducts elections for about 111,000 people in this northern California region, Cathy Darling Allen can see that if she had a budget, she would do All security improvements out there.
“We had plexi on the counter downstairs for Covid, but that’s not going to stop a person. It’s really just clipped to the counter,” the county clerk and registrar said. She estimates that for about $50,000, the office could secure the front and limit access to the upstairs office. Another county put bulletproof glass in their halls a few years ago, and she knew that officials there had considered removing it at one point, but not anymore.
Allen said the election office has not thought about security in this way in the past. Now they can’t help but do it.
After Donald Trump refused to acknowledge his defeat in the 2020 presidential election, Allen said the job of the once-low-profile nonpartisan local election official has shifted in counties like hers. A culture of misinformation has sow doubts in the U.S. electoral system, subjecting officials in Nevada and Michigan to harassment and threats. In the past year alone, the FBI has received more than 1,000 reports of threats to election workers.
In California, officials in small, rural and low-resource counties like Shasta say they are experiencing hostility and aggressive bullying from residents who believe voter fraud is widespread — many are filing open records requests with local election offices , as part of their tireless efforts. to prove their claims.
Residents of Shasta County tried to intimidate election workers while acting as observers, crowding around Allen during a tense election-night confrontation in June, and visiting voters’ homes while claiming to be part of an “official task force.” In Nevada County in northeastern California, the registrar-designate had to issue restraining orders against residents who harassed her and crowded into her office, beating a staff member, she said.
“This is truly an unprecedented time,” said Kim Alexander, president of the nonpartisan California Voter Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to improving the electoral process. “A colleague recently called it a madness that has caught on.”
“This is our Tiananmen Square”
On a Tuesday in September, speaker after speaker went to the Shasta County Board of Supervisors to denounce what they believed to be — without evidence — “election fraud” going on.Residents dressed in red, white and blue described their efforts as A David-Goliath battle.
“It’s called a citizen audit, and we’ve been going out and collecting evidence that there’s fraud in our process,” a spokesman said. “This is our Tiananmen Square. We’ll be standing in front of tanks and no longer scolding machines. say what.”
The group of residents who doubted Shasta’s election was a small but high-profile group, who often spoke at county council meetings. They’ve filed dozens of requests for public records with Allen’s office, have made numerous appearances at election watching, and even visited the homes of some voters in gear labeled “Official Voter Task Force” — a type of vote Allen said Conduct may constitute voter intimidation.
Their opposition comes amid broader political unrest in the rural northern county and stems from anger among some residents over Trump’s defeat and pandemic restrictions and vaccine regulations imposed by California’s progressive government.
The rage coalesced into an anti-establishment movement backed by unprecedented outside funding from Connecticut millionaires and backed by militia groups in the region, leading to the recall in February of a longtime county supervisor. The behavior seen in that election prompted Allen’s office to make security changes, including tracking everyone who entered the facility.
Allen said that during the June primary election, when school superintendents, district attorneys and sheriffs were voting, a group of observers tried to intimidate county staff, and someone installed tracking cameras outside the office in what appeared to be an intent to spy on election workers . The sheriff has a representative stationed outside the office. After four candidates backed by anti-establishment groups failed utterly — Ellen defeated her opponent and was re-elected for her fifth term — the candidates called for a recount.
The county uses Dominion voting machines, which Trump supporters have smeared as part of a false conspiracy theory that the company played a role in swinging the 2020 Biden election, which is of particular concern to residents who believe widespread election fraud . Some of them tried to share content with Allen, such as 2000 Mules, a debunked documentary that promoted false claims about voter fraud.
A prominent figure in the campaign to deny the election recently held a $20 event at a church in the area. Allen was especially frustrated by the grandstanding of people making money by spreading debunked narratives in the election.
If the election goes wrong, she says, she relies on actual experts she knows who have worked in the field for decades, and shares the information for free: “I promise you, they’re not going to charge people $20 per head. A church in Redding, Calif., tells the story. It’s about making you a dollar, not trying to make anything better.”
She said Allen’s office had seen aggressive behavior and bullying, but no threats yet. Given the threats facing election officials across the U.S., she suspects it’s only a matter of time.
“It’s not registered by anyone,” she said. “I was told I should have private security. That’s not right. But this is the world we live in right now.”
‘Just another form of harassment’
Natalie Adona, in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains about 150 miles away in eastern California, said her office faced the same challenge: “If it happened in Shasta, it probably also It will happen here. The loudest potential election disruptors share information among our counties.”
Political tensions have been rising in Nevada County, home to about 100,000 people in historic towns and settlements at the heart of California’s gold rush, since the 2020 election, said Assistant County Clerk Adona.
Earlier this year, a group of residents tried to launch a radical and ultimately unsuccessful campaign to recall the entire supervisory board, accusing them of committing “crimes against humanity” in support of Covid safety measures.
When campaigning for her office this spring, Adona said she and her office had been subjected to a months-long campaign of public harassment, as well as racist language in an election email that featured a picture of her in dark colors. photo, and attempted to disqualify her for falsely claiming she did not pay the application fee. Opponents called for a recount after Adona won by nearly 70 percent.
“I think it’s just another form of harassment, I think one of the other purposes is trying to get other documents that are not normal [obtainable] During regular observation,” she said.
Meanwhile, her office has received what appeared to be a series of copy-and-paste requests for public records in recent months, and Adona said: “What we have today is either a deliberate attempt to get a kink in the electoral process, or it’s just a real A flood of requests reflecting that petitioners had little knowledge of the election.”
Adona also received a threat that law enforcement was unable to act on, she said.
“It’s certainly not on the level of Georgia or Wisconsin. I do feel lucky, but at the same time a lot of things are disturbing,” she said.
The Nevada County office increased its headquarters security budget and worked more closely with law enforcement.
“I have the best job in the world. I can serve the voters, I can serve the public, but election management has become more difficult over the past few years,” she said. “It raises a lot of questions for my team, like how do we keep election workers in the field safe, how do we keep our staff safe while providing the same level of transparency the public deserves in elections.”
“We haven’t had a break in about five years”
Across the U.S., the atmosphere has become so tense that one in five election workers said they were unlikely to remain in office in the next presidential election, according to a survey conducted by the Brennan Center for Justice. About one in six said they had been personally threatened.
Across California, small but vocal groups inspired by unwitting or malicious actors have been led to believe false narratives about how elections are conducted in the state, prompting the group to increasingly focus on election work, said Alexander of the California Voter Foundation. personnel safety. focus.
The group, along with the Brennan Center, recently launched legislation signed into law by California’s governor This allows workers to keep their home addresses private.
“When I started looking at election security about 30 years ago, I never thought it would include the personal safety of those we elect,” Alexander said.
But things changed quickly, she said. Her group is trying to support election officials by providing de-escalation training and other resources to their offices. Need more help, and it’s been a long time.
“The chronic underfunding of U.S. election administration is one of the conditions that makes our election workers vulnerable. If offices weren’t understaffed and underresourced to begin with, they would have had more security,” she said.
California’s election office has been challenged by back-to-back elections over the past few years, including the 2021 gubernatorial recall election. A few months later, Shasta County held a local recall election.
“We haven’t had a break in about five years,” said Allen, who is also on the board of the California Voters Foundation. “None of my staff can really disconnect—no time. I can’t even get to the top of Mount Larsen, and I know no one can catch me.”
In the past, demystifying the electoral process with office tours and walkthrough procedures helped to allay fears, Allen said. This year, she said, the office is trying to reach voters as much as possible by fighting the wave of misinformation and disinformation through the steady stream of good information her office has released through social media and webinars. The county recently hired someone to work on voter education and outreach.
But as misinformation spreads, more and more people don’t believe anything the office sends, she said.
“I don’t know how to dissuade people from believing they’ve swallowed it up as a religion,” she said. “We’ll try it anyway.”
quiet, Allen still hopes things will get better. On the desk in her office is a stack of resident thank-you cards thanking her for her office work. She won re-election by a huge margin.
“In June, all the people who believed bad information about election fraud and election theft — six of whom ran for office in the June election — didn’t win. Not one,” she said. “To me, that’s the story: Shasta County voters see through this.”
As for the national challenge facing election workers, “that will pass too,” Allen said.
“I do think it’s going to get worse before it gets better – but it’s going to get better,” she said.