Today A News Cafe features a frank conversation with Cathy Darling Allen, Shasta County Clerk/Registrar of Voters. She agreed to answer some controversial questions related to her elections department. We discussed many things, such as her response to a fringe group of election-deniers’ demands for her to preserve the 2020 elections documents; demands supported by ultra-conservative board majority supervisors Les Baugh, Patrick Jones and Tim Garman. She also cleared up stubborn inquires regarding candidates who claim residency in one place, while actually living elsewhere. Darling Allen, who was recently re-elected with a whopping 68.36 lead, shared her definition of a true patriot.
This discussion is especially pressing in the aftermath of the August 30 Shasta County Board of Supervisors meeting where dozens of election-deniers joined forces to criticize Darling Allen, her staff, the elections department, and Shasta County elections going back to 2020. Of the nearly 30 people who spoke during the public comment period, all but a few were there to not just make accusations about Shasta County’s election department, but to make specific demands. The speakers’ rebukes were bolstered by their like-minded ultra-conservative board majority: Baugh, Jones and Garman, a trio I’ve come to view as a reckless political wrecking ball.
Joe Chimenti, one of the two rational supervisors on the dais (Supervisor Mary Rickert is the other), delivered an off-the-rails “different perspective” after he’d apparently had enough of hearing complaints about an election that’s done and over with. Many in the audience peppered Chimenti’s words with loud boos of disapproval, but he plowed on.
“I am very, very confident that everyone sitting up here won their elections legally and fairly and accurately,” Chimenti said.
“… I think it’s time for us to move on. I think it’s time for us to address the issues that are facing our community … I am tired of listening to the same old banter about what’s wrong. I don’t know what happened in the rest of the country, but in Shasta County I am extremely confident that the vote was fair, and it was right and it was counted properly and the appropriate people are sitting in the seats they’re supposed to be sitting. And I really could care less what your opinion would be … I do not believe that people in this room represent the majority of the voters in Shasta County.”
Many in the audience yelled outraged shouts of disapproval as Chimenti spoke.
No doubt some of the same issues addressed on August 30 will arise at today’s 9 a.m. Shasta County Board of Supervisors meeting.
DC: Welcome to A News Cafe, Cathy. Thank you for taking the time to answer some questions related to this year’s elections, and recent challenges you and your staff have faced in this contentious political climate.
For more than two years I’ve watched as you and your staff endured a constant stream of angry, baseless accusations, bullying and threats, often spoken during public comment periods. Even so, you still invite members of the public to observe the election process.
How do you deal with the barrage of negative feedback from those who continue to mistrust elections, who believe elections were stolen, or who label election results as fraud?
CD: I feel really strongly about treating everybody with respect, and honoring people who have honest concerns. But there’s a line. I don’t know how to reach folks who approach me with their concerns but who don’t believe me or elections experts. Often, these are people who get their information from a guy who sells pillows, or they believe 2000 Mules – which has been debunked all over the place, seven ways to Sunday. And there are those who believe many of the other very high-dollar production-value content that’s being created around false information. All that’s a very big problem.
DC: Why are those beliefs a problem?
CD: Unfortunately, the people promoting that false information are taking in a lot of people. I could not feel more sorry about that for our community, and for communities all over the country that are experiencing the same level of mistrust and concern over elections administrations. One person at the last meeting got up and said you can go observe the election, and all you’re watching is fraud happening.
All we as election administrators can do is follow the law and count the marks that voters make on paper. At the end of the day, that’s really all we’re doing, right? People are absolutely personally invested in the truth of things like 2000 Mules, and other productions and other information from other websites. And there are people proselytizing about this phenomenon.
DC: Speaking of religion, locally, there’s a lot of Christian Nationalism mixed in with these election-denier groups. It’s common for many of Shasta County’s election-deniers to use scripture-based wording to justify their goals and conspiracy theories. I’m thinking in particular of phrases like, “such a time as this” (Esther 4:13-14 ).
CD: Well, I consider myself a Christian. But it doesn’t feel like Christ-like behavior when people are following my staff, and recording them, or following us when we leave the office, or when people follow me to my car.
DC: That’s crazy. After putting up with those kinds of experiences, have you given up trying to reason with people?
CD: No. There’s a phrase I heard at a professional conference: ‘There are saints, sinners and salvageables.’ We need to focus on the “salvagables” – folks who have legitimate concerns and honest questions that we can answer. But if people are unwilling to believe the local elections experts in every community across the United States, then I don’t know how to reach those folks.
I don’t have a $10,000 video-enabled backdrop with 12 cameras and perfect lighting and a makeup person and somebody picking out my clothes for me to produce a video that will look convincing enough to grab those people. That’s just not something I have the resources to do. Besides, even if I did, I have no interest in doing that, because I have a full-time job.
DC: During the board of supervisors last public comment period, dozens of people lined up for more than an hour-and-a half with unsubstantiated accusations against you, your staff, your elections office and the electronic Dominion voting system. Not only do they deny the accuracy of Shasta County’s recent June primary election, but also the 2020 election.
A few speakers even used their 3 minutes not to speak – but to set their phones on the overhead projector and play scratchy video clips to prove their points. One woman’s smeared phone screen showed a shaky photo of a pencil tip, and a white speck beside it that was believed to be planted inside Dominion machines to alter election results. All but a few of the more than 30 speakers criticized some aspect of local and national elections. It was actually rather funny when Supervisor Tim Garman spilled the beans during the meeting and said his father-in-law had called him the previous night and asked if the board was going to discuss the Dominion voting machines, because that’s what he heard. Obviously, it was an organized effort.
When you listened to that meeting, did you see any “salvageables” among those speakers?
CD: I don’t know the hearts and minds of every person who spoke at that meeting, but I will say that of the ones I heard, I didn’t hear any who seemed open to facts.
DC: Patty Plumb was one of the speakers, someone who’s been openly critical of you, your staff and your elections work.
She said that counting ballots was like counting counterfeit money, and said Shasta County elections should get rid of all electronics, and return to in-person, hand-counted, all-paper ballots.
CD: It’s funny, because many of these folks say, ‘Oh, we need to go back to paper ballots,’ but every ballot we’ve counted for the last 15 years – since 2007 – has been a ballot marked on paper by a human being. The exceptions have been voters who need assistance, for one reason or another, such as because of a disability.
DC: One recurring statement that Supervisor Patrick Jones brought up once again at the last supervisors meeting is that there’s a lack of trust between voters and your office; and he hasn’t heard you answer his question about how you can regain voters’ trust. To me, that was like a when-did-you-stop-beating-your-wife question, because for you to answer that question would require you to agree with Patrick’s assertion that voters don’t trust you. Plus, he said he was not OK with cheating, which it appears he’s accusing you of. He said he wanted to ensure we have “free and fair elections” and said “we’re not there yet.”
CD: Yes, it feels very much like a trap question. This allegation about the lack of trust; I can say that I have not – professionally or personally – broken the trust of the voters of this community. What I would ask instead is what about the people who have broken voters’ trust by lying to the American people about elections? Those are the people who need to step back and stop. But I cannot control those people. And they will not stop as long as people continue to pay them money. The people who are lying to the American public about elections are literally making millions of dollars in this effort. I imagine there are people who are very well-intentioned, but I also imagine there are people who 100-percent don’t even believe what they’re saying, but they’re making money at it, so they’re going to continue repeating lies.
DC: One of the biggest issues addressed by the election-deniers who took over the previous board of supervisors public comment period was about the 2020 elections records, which many of the speakers insisted be preserved, not destroyed. In fact, in an amazing turn of events, the board majority (Les Baugh, Patrick Jones and Tim Garman) voted to request that your office be instructed to not destroy anything having to do with the 2020 election. At one point of incredible rudeness, when Pat Minturn (acting CEO) tried to explain to board chair Baugh that the supervisors have no jurisdiction over your department, Baugh basically shut Minturn down. In fact, Baugh told Minturn that he didn’t care if making a request to the county clerk was legal or not. Baugh said he hadn’t asked for Minturn’s opinion, either. There was county counsel sitting up there, available to clear up any questions about the legality of directing you to do anything, but Baugh didn’t ask counsel’s legal opinion, either. Baugh made no secret about his agreement with those speakers, people who made it sound as if your office was trying to destroy valuable evidence that would prove fraudulent behavior in the elections department.
Can you explain this whole issue of people demanding that you not destroy 2020 elections materials? What’s that about?
CD: Sure. It’s a legal issue, based upon a federal statute that requires we retain federal election documents for 22 months. That statute isn’t optional. I took an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of California. It is my job and my sworn duty to follow all the laws. The supervisors who voted in favor of asking me to not shred those documents were asking me to break the law.
I will say I find it interesting that some of the people now claiming election fraud were actually elected in those elections.
DC: Yes, I’ve noticed. I looked up California Elections Code 17301, and found the passage in question. Here’s a screen grab of the relevant part that clearly directs your office to destroy or recycle ballots within a 22-period of an election.
So, I have to ask. It’s been 22 months since the 2020 election, which means that deadline is up. Has your office shredded those documents yet?
CD: No, we haven’t, but we do have it scheduled, and I’d rather not say when.
DC: Understandable. I’m wondering, are these requests unique to Shasta County?
CD: Gosh, no. These “preservation requests” are happening all over the country, with nearly identical letters being sent to many, many, many other jurisdictions across the United States.
DC: For the sake of argument, what if an election-denier said, ‘Hey, Cathy, don’t shred the records. What’s the harm in keeping them?’ ”
CD: As I’ve said, I’m bound by law to shred those documents. But even if I were inclined to break the law and ignore my oath – which I’m not – at some point it comes down to a storage issue. We’re simply running out of space. We’ve had lots of extra elections, right? As you know, we had a local recall election, and we’ve had special election after special election. This year, for the first time, I had to rent outside storage space for non-security risk items, like voting booths.
DC: Here’s what I don’t get: The people who demand that you not destroy those 2020 elections materials claim that their reason is so they can have the records available for what they call a “review”. What exactly would a review look like, and who would do it? Certainly not your office, right?
I mean, remember when the accusations of Shasta County election fraud came up after the June primary when most of the Liberty candidates lost, and then they demanded a recount?
But when it came down to it, Mark Kent, the guy who called for the recount, had to eat crow, because he didn’t know he’d have to pay for the recount, so he backed down and withdrew his request. But at that same meeting Jon Knight stood up and offered to pay for the recount. Strangely, in the end, neither Mark Kent, or any of the other Liberty folks took Jon up on the offer. So now, many of these same people are demanding a review.
CD: Really, I can’t pretend to understand what they want, but nobody’s doing a review without a court order. Also, it’s important to note that with all this talk of election fraud, nobody has once said, ‘Oh, Cathy is there hand-marking ballots,’ or ‘Joe Smith is dumping 50-percent of the pre-marked ballots’. No one is spelling out exactly how they believe we’ve committed fraud. Many of these same people come in and observe – which is fine – but as one of my staff says, it’s like they’re looking for the body. Guess what? There’s no body.
What we do is a very simple thing: We are going to work. We are doing our jobs, and then we’re going home to our families.
DC: These election deniers aren’t just misguided people hogging up public-comment time at supervisor meetings. Their actions are negatively influencing your ability to work, right? And I’m not just talking about that invasion of your office on election night.
CD: Right. We’ve received more than 30 public records act requests in August alone. We’ve had to add a person to our budget to handle those, so this is costing taxpayers a lot of money. Also, we’ve been using outside attorneys, which is very expensive, because county counsel is having a hard time replacing attorneys. It’s really an unfortunate situation. I’m not sure folks understand that when people file all these records requests, and then file duplicates that have just a few word changes that vary from their template, we have to read every request. So our office is feeling the impact of those demands, and there’s a lot of burnout.
DC: I’m going to go slightly off-topic here to something that’s come up a lot this year, and that’s regarding allegations that a few candidates have made blatantly false residency claims. Many people – myself included – have asked why you, as the county clerk, don’t “do something about it”.
CD: My answer has been that if you want that person off the ballot for a reason you think is valid, you have to sue me to make that happen, because that candidate has done what they are legally required to do to be on the ballot. I am not an investigator. I do not have an elections badge. An elections gun is not issued to me. However, what I can do is contact investigative agencies like the District Attorney, or the Attorney General, because it’s my responsibility and my duty, when someone reports what they believe is a crime to me, to forward that information on to the appropriate agencies. But no, my office is not an investigative agency. In fact, there’s even a sentence in the law that says the county clerk shall not dispense legal advice. We are a bureaucratic agency that conducts a very, very important fundamental function for the voters of this county in tandem with jurisdictions all over the country that also conduct elections.
DC: Thanks for clearing that up, because it’s been a hot topic this year with at least two candidates who I know of; one running for a supervisor seat, and the other running for re-election to the Redding City Council.
But back to the election-deniers and their demands to preserve those 2020 documents. For me, one of the most gobsmacking parts of that August 30 supervisors meeting was when Patty Plumb spoke during the public comment period and said she’d sent two letters to your office demanding you preserve the documents. But she’d barely finished speaking before Baugh butt in and pretty much led the witness. He suggested that Patty should file a lawsuit. He even asked if she’d be willing to do that. She said, ‘Absolutely’.
It was stunning to watch Baugh, an elected official, the board chair, someone who’s a paid county employee, give a citizen at the lectern tips on how to sue Shasta County to force it to comply with demands to not shred the 2020 documents. How strange to see a county employee publicly conduct a DIY how-to-sue-Shasta-County session.
CD: It was a request. A request, OK? They can request all they want, but the government code is very clear. I don’t get to decide which laws to follow and which to not follow. And I won’t violate the law because Les Baugh or anyone else tells me to. The board has no authority to direct the activities in my office. Collectively, the voters are my boss, and most of them expect me to follow the rule of law. The only way to stop me is through litigation, and if a judge orders me to do otherwise.
But they better think hard, and they better think quick, because those documents are going away.
DC: How do you see things going here in Shasta County the next few months until the November election?
CD: We’ll probably see the same people getting up and doing the same thing week after week. What’s frustrating is they refuse to understand or acknowledge that many more people do not agree with them.
But there’s a spirit of revolution that’s appealing to some folks. There’s a lot of noise, and a lot of false accusations that are being made. I have called it recently, and I’ll continue to call it.
DC: Sure, we’ve heard talk of civil war for a long time now. It’s frightening.
CD: I agree, and I have to say, that if things came to that – a revolution or civil war – I sincerely believe that I will end up hanging from a light pole.
DC: Oh my God. Seriously?
CD: Seriously. You know, so many of these people call themselves patriots. I want to say to them, you are not patriots. What’s patriotic are the single mothers who come to my office and work every day, day in and day out, because they believe in this country and they believe in the work that we are doing.
They can wear whatever clothing they want, and they can hold all the meetings they want, but the accusations they’re making against me and my staff are patently false.
The thing is, for these people to come to the board of supervisor meetings week after week with complaints about the election is literally a waste of time, because they’re barking up the wrong tree. I don’t have the ability to change what’s in the government code, and neither do the supervisors. If folks are really looking for changes to state law and our election process, they should be knocking on the doors of Brian and Megan Dahle. You want to change state law? Go to Sacramento.
DC: I appreciate the time you took to speak with me, Cathy.
Meanwhile, I’ll be watching today’s board of supervisors meeting with great interest, as I’m sure you will, too, especially since the board’s Consent Calendar contains three supposedly routine and non-controversial items pertaining to County Clerk/Elections. Of course, if we’ve learned anything the last few years, matters that are deemed routine and non-controversial outside the North State are anything but here in Shasta County.