© 2022 | Jefferson Public Radio
Southern Oregon University
1250 Siskiyou Blvd.
Ashland, OR 97520
541.552.6301 | 800.782.6191
KSOR Header background image 1
a service of Southern Oregon University
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

Elections officials describe intimidation and misinformation from local 'voter integrity' groups

A white woman with grey and brown hair stands in a storage room, full of cardboard boxes and plastic bins on shelves. She's pointing to one clear plastic bin with a label describing the contents.
Roman Battaglia
/
JPR News
Shasta County Clerk Cathy Darling Allen looks at bins containing election supplies for all the precincts.

This election season, county clerks in Southern Oregon and Northern California have reported hearing about so-called “voter integrity” groups questioning residents at their homes. The activity has been seen as voter intimidation by some, and it's part of a broader national trend motivated by election conspiracy theorists.

Cathy Darling Allen first heard about the door knockers in September. The Shasta County Clerk said she got reports of three residents' homes being visited in the small town of Anderson and one in Redding.

“Two people came to their front door, knocked on their door wearing yellow reflective vests and IDs around their neck that say “voter task force”. And they’re pretty aggressively questioning the people who live there,” Darling Allen said.

She said the handful of residents felt singled out and targeted by the voter groups.

“This is not a situation where folks were going door to door. They drove to their homes, got out of the car right in front of their homes, that kind of thing,” she said.

Darling Allen said the targeted door-knocking happening in Shasta County amounts to voter intimidation and could be illegal under California election laws. She reported the incidents to state and federal authorities.

Similar so-called voter integrity groups have been active in Douglas, Jackson and Klamath counties in Oregon. The groups have asked who lives at residences, if residents got ballots for someone else, and who they voted for in the 2020 election. The clerks in those counties said it was not staff from their offices.

“They want to find a way to clean the rolls. Their goal is to find problems with the voter rolls,” said Dan Loomis, the Douglas County clerk.

Conspiracy theories

At least some of these actions were inspired by national activists. One is Doug Frank, a conspiracy theorist who has recently been traveling the country promoting the unfounded idea that there is widespread fraud occurring in elections across the U.S.

Frank visited Shasta County in mid-September, before Darling Allen heard about the door-knocking. He wore his trademark American flag bow-tie and gave a talk about “election task forces”. That day he also gave a presentation to the Shasta County board of supervisors about how his grassroots campaign works.

“My specialty is coaching groups on finding real, actionable election fraud. Fraud they can take to their sheriffs, their election officials and local courts,” Frank said, during the supervisors meeting.

According to Frank, he uses election records and census data to identify problems. Then he compiles local addresses for canvassers to check for voter fraud.

“The local citizens will be bringing you hundreds of cases of undeniable fraud,” he told the supervisors. “Not just problems with the rolls – yeah, you’ve got problems with the rolls – but they’re going to bring you fraud as well. Documented fraud.”

Flawed analysis

Despite his claims, there is no evidence to support Frank’s accusations that local elections have been stolen, and the analysis behind his conclusions is flawed, according to Justin Grimmer, a political science professor at Stanford University and senior fellow with the Hoover Institution.

“There’s no truth to Doug Frank’s claims,” Grimmer said.

Grimmer has written several papers about Frank’s research methodology. He says it’s based on a mathematical analysis of voting numbers that will, in essence, always suggest that they’ve been manipulated, whether those numbers come from Klamath, Shasta or Jackson counties, or any other election.

“He’s chosen a statistical method that will always give a particular value and he’s decided to interpret that as evidence of fraud when, really, it’s not evidence of much of anything,” he said.

Despite these voter integrity groups looking for fraud in the 2020 election, Grimmer says this is also a forward-looking effort meant to discredit future campaigns.

“I think a lot of the work that he’s doing now, including talking regularly with election officials throughout the country and mobilizing these local activists, is to lay the groundwork for objections to 2022,” Grimmer said.

Rebuilding trust

Placer County Clerk Ryan Ronco also believes these claims will continue through the midterm election and that they’ll increase around the 2024 presidential election. Just east of Sacramento, Placer is another county Doug Frank focused on in recent months to recruit residents over alleged fraud.

But Ronco says, if residents are concerned, they should first come to his office to see how Placer County protects the vote.

“I just think that it’s a shame if people feel that the election is rigged without coming into their local office to at least ask the questions,” Ronco said.

When they visit, most residents leave feeling satisfied that their local election is being run safely, he says. He adds that the basic step of talking to voters about the process is key to rebuilding trust.

“That’s on every registrar in California, to try to do what they can to increase their transparency even greater, so that we can be able to begin this process of allowing people who feel disenfranchised or disengaged from the process right now, back in, so that their voices can be heard,” he said.

Voters in Oregon and California can call their local clerk’s office to arrange a tour. They can also be an observer on election day.

Erik Neumann is JPR's news director. He earned a master's degree from the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and joined JPR as a reporter in 2019 after working at NPR member station KUER in Salt Lake City.