Interview: Shasta County registrar recounts primary election tensions

Across the country, election officials have found themselves the target of harassment and threats of violence since former President Donald Trump falsely claimed the 2020 election was stolen.

This has prompted some to prepare for what could be a contentious midterm election later in the year.

Political tensions in the upstate county have been building for months, starting with the recall election of an establishment Republican, Leonard Motyof the county board of supervisors, attracting the attention of the state and the country.

In the middle of that talk is the Shasta County Elections Office tasked with ensuring fair and accurate vote accounting, although now that seems to be getting harder to do.

“I am very deeply concerned about the spreading doubts and the false narrative that is spreading about how elections are conducted in this country,” said Shasta County Clerk and Registrar of Voters Cathy Darling Allen. said on Insight. “I think the lesson I need to learn, and what I need to improve on, is to be judgmental about who I can reach and who I can’t.”

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

She joined CapRadio Insight host Vicki Gonzalez to discuss what happened inside the Shasta County Recorder’s Office and how the environment has changed.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

On some interactions Allen had with voters

What happened on [election] the night was we had people who are linked to a group that put forward a list of candidates, what they called themselves 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 good that he was treated poorly by our local government and the building department in particular.

And so some of the people associated with the band who are currently not succeeding in the competition they were trying to win, came into my office asking us to close the building at the end of the evening when we were made so that no one can tamper with unvoted or unprocessed ballots that are here in our office, because California votes all by mail.

We have a lot of paper to deal with after election day, and that has been true for many years. This is not new to Shasta County. We are actually at around 80%, just under 80% of voters who have requested to vote by mail permanently.

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

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

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

On what moments did Allen worry about the safety of his staff

I continued to worry. Many people associated with this group have made undisguised threats to others.

We haven’t received any direct threats in the Elections Department, so I don’t want to mislead you or your listeners. We received no direct threats.

But people have come to our Board of Supervisors in public comment over the past two years with comments such as “rope is cheaper than balls. You made overpriced balls, but luckily the rope is still cheap,” those kinds of comments.

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

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

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

So we learned about it late in the evening on polling day.

We had a lot of people in the back alley – that’s where our election workers come and go to drop off their supplies and the ballots they collected throughout the day on Election Day.

So it’s kind of a space that’s completely empty and unused most of the time, but on election night it’s a flurry of activity with all the county election workers bringing their supplies home. And many people, on the personal side, [are] in the driveway because we don’t ask poll workers to get out of their cars and unpack their own things.

We have a bit like a NASCAR pit stop. We have a group of people jumping on the car and getting out everything they need, talking to the driver, then they leave and we move on to the next car.

So someone noticed the trail cam that evening after dark, and we figured the media should probably get a chance to look at it. And then the media told us again that he was gone.

I didn’t know it was taken down because we’re trying to process the ballots and do our job, not watch the CCTV. So around 1:30 a.m. Wednesday, I was reading an article in our local newspaper that said the trail camera had been removed.

And then when we left around 3 [a.m.]we visually confirmed that he was gone.

On how Allen now plans to handle elections in the future

I am deeply concerned about the spreading doubts and the false narrative that is spreading about how the elections are going in this country.

…I think the lesson I need to learn and what I need to improve on is to be judgmental about who I can reach and who I can’t…I care deeply about our country and the work we do. I understand how important that is, and it’s very important that people have confidence in the way the system works.

This same group has now been spending a lot of time on social media since Tuesday night, talking about how the results are inaccurate because they lose and they are incorrect.

We are going to do a lot of post-election audits. We haven’t even finished counting all the ballots yet. But, you know, this same voting system was used when this same group of people tried and succeeded in recalling one of our county supervisors on February 1 of this year.

So the idea that all of a sudden the electoral system doesn’t work is just not a believable narrative and it’s not true.

…we’ll keep counting the ballots until we’re done. We will allow people who have forgotten to sign their envelope or whose signature does not match to resolve these issues until June 24th.

But I don’t think this conversation will happen again in the same way. I’m not going to waste my time with people who really don’t believe anything I say, so…if they don’t believe me, I’m not going to waste my time with them.

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