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Interview: Shasta County Registrar recounts tensions during primary election

Colonial Heights Library in Sacramento, Calif. serves as a polling place on Tuesday, June 7, 2022.
Andrew Nixon
Colonial Heights Library in Sacramento, Calif. serves as a polling place on Tuesday, June 7, 2022.

Across the country, election officials have found themselves targets of harassment and threats of violence since former President Donald Trump falsely claimed the 2020 election was stolen. Things have been particularly tense in Shasta County, California.

Political tensions in the Shasta County have been building for months, beginning with the recall election of an establishment Republican, Leonard Moty, from the County Board of Supervisors, drawing state and national attention.

In the middle of this discourse is the Shasta County elections office responsible for ensuring a fair and accurate accounting of the vote, though now it seems to be getting harder to do.

“I am very deeply concerned about the doubts that are being spread and the untrue narrative that’s being spread about how elections are conducted in this country,” Shasta County Clerk and Registrar of Voters Cathy Darling Allen said on Insight. “I think the lesson that I need to learn, and the thing I need to get better at, is making a judgment call about what people I can reach and what people I can’t."

Allen was on the ballot for County Clerk, and leads with 68.82% of the vote.

She joined CapRadio’s Insight host Vicki Gonzalez to discuss what has been going on inside of the Shasta County registrar’s office and how the environment has changed.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Interview Highlights

On some interactions Allen has had with voters

What happened on [election] night was we had some folks who are connected to a group that put forward a slate of candidates, what they branded themselves as anti-establishment candidates, and they received a very large amount of funding and contributions from a former Shasta County resident who now lives in Connecticut and feels very much that he was treated poorly by our local government and the building department in particular.

And so, some of the folks who are associated with the group who are currently not successful in the contest they were trying to win, came into my office to ask us to basically seal off the building shut at the end of the evening when we were done so that no one could tamper with un-voted or unprocessed ballots that are here in our office because California votes all by mail.

We have a lot of paper to process after Election Day, and that’s been true for many years. This is not a new thing in Shasta County. We are actually at about 80%, right under 80% of voters who have requested to be permanently vote-by-mail voters.

So when the governor signed AB 37 last September, which made all vote-by-mail in California permanent … things changed the way that we have to process and the effect that it has on turnout, etc.

So I had a group of people who kind of accosted me in the alley behind our office and spent about four hours basically trying to convince me to do what they think is the right thing to do.

Every election is a learning experience, and that conversation will never happen in that same way again.

On what moments have worried Allen about her staff’s safety

I continued to be worried. Many of the folks who are associated with this group have made not-veiled threats to others.

We have not received any direct threats in the elections department, so I don’t want to mislead you or your listeners. We have not received any direct threats.

But people have gone to our Board of Supervisors in public comment for the last two years with comments like “rope is cheaper than bullets. You’ve made bullets too expensive, but luckily rope is still cheap,” those kinds of comments.

That’s a threat of violence, and I take it very seriously.

We have a very robust gun culture in the county that I live in. It’s not something I take lightly.

On what it was like for Allen to discover a planted trail camera behind the office

So we learned about it in the late evening on Election Day.

We had a lot of people in the back alley — that’s where our poll workers come and travel through to drop off their supplies and the ballots that they have collected through the day on Election Day.

So that is kind of a completely empty, unused space most of the time, but on election night, it is a bustle of activity with every poll worker in the county bringing back their supplies. And a lot of folks, staff-wise, [are] in the alley because we don’t have the poll workers get out of their car and unpack their things themselves.

We have kind of like a NASCAR pit stop. We have a bunch of people kind of jump on the car and take everything out that they need, speak to the driver and then they’re off and we move to the next car.

So somebody noticed the trail cam that evening after dark, and we thought the media should probably have a chance to look at it. And then we were told again by the media when it was gone.

I didn’t realize it had been removed because we’re trying to process ballots and do our jobs, not watch the trail cam. So at about 1:30 in the morning on Wednesday, I was reading an article that was in our local paper that said the trail cam and had been taken down.

And then, when we left at about 3 [a.m.], we confirmed visually that it was gone.

On how Allen now plans to deal with elections in the future

I am deeply concerned about the doubts that are being spread and the untrue narrative that's being spread about how elections are conducted in this country.

… I think the lesson that I need to learn and the thing I need to get better at is making a judgment call about what people I can reach and what people I can't … I deeply care about our country and the work that we do. I understand how important it is, and it's very important that people have confidence in the system in way that it works.

That same group is now spending a lot of time on social media ever since Tuesday night, talking about how the results are inaccurate because they're losing and they're incorrect.

We're going to do a lot of election post-election auditing. We haven't even finished counting all the ballots yet. But, you know, this same voting system was used when that same group of folks attempted and successfully recalled one of our county supervisors on February 1st of this year.

So the idea that suddenly the voting system doesn't work anymore is just not a believable narrative and it's not true.

… we'll continue to count ballots until we're done. We will allow those folks who forgot to sign their envelope or have a mismatched signature to cure those issues up until June 24th.

But I think that conversation won't happen in the same way again. I won't waste my time with folks who just truly don't believe anything I say so that … if they're not going to believe me, then I'm not going to waste my time with them.

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