Shasta County can exhale a sigh of relief today following preliminary results from two sides of the same coin in the county’s Nov. 7 special election.
One side of the coin was the election itself. According to the latest election results, after a contentious campaign duel north of Redding, Gateway School District voters chose stability with moderate candidate Casey Bowden (793 votes) and rejected anticipated chaos with ultra-conservative candidate Camille King (577 votes).
And west of Redding, residents overwhelming voted for their own Shasta Fire District with Measures A and B, that would respectively create and fund the Shasta Fire District, directed by all three candidates who ran for those positions, Stanley “Rusty” Swayne (192 votes), Cynthia MacDonald (188 votes) and Susan G. Weale (185 votes).
The potentially dangerous side of the coin
However, the darker side of Tuesday’s Election-Day coin was one fraught with speculations about possible displays of everything from protests to actual violence at the elections office.
These were not baseless fears.
In January Shasta County’s far-right board majority voted to cancel the election department’s Dominion Voting Systems, a move they thought would bring them closer to their goal of elections that featured hand-counted ballots.
But before the hand-count believers experienced their dream of counting ballots by hand, some California legislators passed AB969. The bill banned not just the Shasta County hand-counted ballots, but any California municipality from performing hand counts in counties with more than 1000 registered voters, which describes most California counties.
A few months ago Richard Gallardo of Redding posted on social media a call to “all patriots”. He said the local militia was setting up “ground based radio repeaters (that are NOT co-located next to gov’t equipment) for use in emergency situations and for citizen communications.”
Gallardo is best known as the person who attempted a mass citizens’ arrest on an entire board of supervisors and county staff. He was fired from his CalFire job for brandishing a firearm at work. Most recently he was reported for terrorizing a senior citizen inside his trailer. (Warning, strong language in the previous hyperlink). This wasn’t the first time local extremists had gone after the same man, who suffers from mental issues.
Gallardo’s also known for his mission to bring Shasta County closer to being an open-carry area, and for serving as a guard at Supervisor Kevin Crye’s town hall meeting.
Without clarifying what kinds of emergency situations and citizen communications Gallardo had in mind, he specified the need for a site in downtown Redding.
“The location preferred is to the hills above but other areas that have visible line of sight to downtown are open for discussion.”
His message begs many questions.
But here are two facts: First, among the many things Gallardo is known for, mental stability is not among them. Second, Shasta County’s Elections Office is one of the largest buildings in downtown Redding.
Speaking of hills, for many months, Gallardo and other North State right-wing podcasters have described the hand-count issue as “the hill” they “would die on”.
Only they can precisely define what dying on a hill would look like.
And only people who’ve lived in Shasta County since early 2020 knows what our people have been exposed to in terms of death threats, intimidation, fear, harassment, hate-speech, more death threats and racism.
For a few years now, especially after former President Donald Trump lost the 2020 election, Shasta County Registrar of Voters Cathy Darling Allen has been targeted as enemy No. 1, by not just members of the public during the open comment period, but she’s been publicly jeered, challenged, disrespected and mocked by two supervisors in particular: Kevin Crye of District 1 and chair Patrick Jones of District 4.
The rancor from the anti-voting machine, pro-hand-count “patriots” reached a crescendo during the June 7, 2020 primaries, when a mob of disgruntled citizens stormed the alley behind the registrar’s office and confronted Darling Allen.
They demanded answers to questions about everything from security stickers to election fraud.
On that night, Darling Allen and her staff were delayed from doing their election duties for many hours by those people; convinced that they were being deceived.
Darling Allen, who sometimes knits during board meetings, has even been publicly criticized for knitting.
That’s exactly what speaker Kim Moore did during a supervisors meeting. But Moore’s attack backfired, as since then citizens have shown up during board of supervisors meetings armed with knitting needles, crochet hooks and yarn in solidarity with Darling Allen.
Recently, Gallardo and Terry Rapoza, State of Jefferson devotee and host of the KCNR radio show Jefferson State of Mine, had this exchange about Darling Allen on one of Rapoza’s Sunday morning programs:
Richard Gallardo: “I’m gettin’ sick and tired of this registrar. Every time she has discretion for a fair and transparent anything, she chooses the opposite of fair and transparent. I’m getting really tired of it.”
Terry Rapoza: “Well you know, there has to be a way to get rid of her. I mean period. The thing is, it’s just, just — enough is enough. I don’t know how many more things we can build up against this person.”
Testing a small, special November election
Tuesday’s special election was a test on several levels. It was the first election since the state’s ban on hand-counted ballots. It was also the first election following the departure of the Dominion machines, tabulated by the new Hart Intercivic voting machines.
Consequently, it was with an abundance of caution that Darling Allen implemented some election night safety measures. There were security guards posted outside the building around the time the polls closed, and sheriffs deputies inside the building. Some Redding Police Department officers arrived later in the evening. Recently, Darling Allen also had installed a long metal fence inside the building, to delineate the public and private areas.
It was this fence that sparked a heated confrontation Tuesday night against Darling Allen by Redding resident Lori Bridgeford, who identifies as a citizen “journalist”.
Bridgeford harangued Darling Allen about the fence, and peppered the registrar with questions delivered with such force that spittle sprayed from Bridgeford onto Darling Allen.
At one point an obviously exasperated Darling Allen ordered Bridgeford to leave, which Bridgeford ignored.
Eventually, Bridgeford moved upstairs where she joined Laura Hobbs, another election observer and frequent board of supervisors public commenter who’s provided data for months displayed on overheads that she claims proves Shasta County’s elections were rigged.
The women grilled the Hart representative with a barrage of questions, until an elections employee intervened and told the Hart representative she was not an employee, but a volunteer, and was not obligated to answer any more questions.
Tuesday night inside the elections office, several people showed up to observe the elections process. Many other Shasta County citizens showed up to demonstrate their support of Darling Allen, her staff and the Hart voting machines, used for the first time Tuesday.
A who’s who of election experts showed up at the elections office to ensure the election went smoothly, but also to support Darling Allen.
Among the representatives on the premises included members from the League of Women Voters of the Redding Area, the Secretary of State, California Common Cause, Disability Rights California, and Hart Voting Systems.
Ryan Ronco, Placer County Registrar of Voters, whose county has about 285,000 registered voters, and uses Dominion voting machines, was there, too. He said Placer County didn’t have a special election Tuesday, so he had time to drive up from Placer County before sunrise to visit some of his election peers from neighboring counties along the way, see how they were doing and if they needed help.
“I just wanted to come up here in case there was a need for me to be an extra pair of hands if there was something going haywire, or if somebody needed to bring a shipment of donuts to a polling place or whatever,” Ronco said with a laugh.
Asked about Shasta County being in the spotlight with regard to AB969, Ronco said he comes from a conservative county, and he’s also conservative. He said he appreciates issues relating to home rule and making sure the board of supervisors has the ability to do what they want to do.
“But – and I don’t want to negate what I just said – but the reality is that to switch election systems, and especially to try to count ballots by hand, it’s really very difficult,” Ronco said.
“I think in this instance, what 969 is trying to do is make sure we don’t make any rash decisions,” Ronco said. “We can plan things. Maybe some day there will be a way to hand count, and hand count effectively, but let’s make sure that it’s vetted.”
Hart InterCivic representative Karen Clakeley was on hand to to oversee the new Hart machines and ensure they ran smoothly. She also answered questions from observers.
Although it was nearly 10 p.m., Clakeley was still smiling and had nothing but positive things to say about the day.
“The machines did what they were supposed to do,” she said. “But I think more importantly, the county did such a great job in embracing very quickly a new voting system. It was exciting to see the grasp they achieved in such a short time. Cathy’s entire team here really did a wonderful, wonderful job.”
Meanwhile, shortly after 10 p.m. most of the observers and media had gone. Darling Allen was finished with TV interviews, taking a break downstairs where she sat near a number of reporters, including one from the L.A. Times and another from the Sacramento Bee.
Darling Allen reflected upon the day, and said that all in all, she felt good about how the day had gone. She added that the turnout was low, which was disappointing, considering how hotly contested the Gateway Unified School District race was in particular.
She gestured around the room toward the people in chairs. Flowers on desks. Cookies. Staff who jumped up whenever someone needed to be let in. Darling said that throughout the day people — many of them strangers to her — had delivered flowers, food, encouragement, and of course, ballots.
Darling Allen acknowledged a few tense moments, such as when Bridgeford aggressively confronted her in the lobby, but Darling Allen said those kinds of events are the exception, not the rule. She said what’s more typical is being stopped by people wherever she goes; people who thank her and her staff for their service.
She mentioned as one example a woman who sometimes speaks at supervisor meetings, who also brought flowers to the elections department. Darling Allen teared up as she told the story about the woman.
“This woman, whose name I don’t even know, she came to say ‘thank you’ and then she told me about being in Germany. She was 6 years old in 1941. She said this is how fascism can happen. You have to keep fighting.”
Darling Allen said it’s difficult sometimes to not feel discouraged by the heavy load carried by a few, and those who are able to help, but don’t.
“So, here’s the thing,” she said. “There are 188,000 people who live in this community. So many people could be doing so much more than what they’re doing. They tell me, ‘Go get ’em, Cathy.’ I can’t do this by myself. Sometimes I feel so frustrated and scared and deeply worried for our country.”
She paused to wipe her eyes and shake her head.
“It’s why I’ve started wearing my Star of David necklace again,” Darling Allen said as she reached up and grasped a tiny gold star that hung from a thin chain around her neck.
It was a good time to discuss knitting. Darling Allen smiled. She explained she was raised by a working mother who was politically active, which she said explained why she grew up to be politically active.
Her busy mother enrolled Darling Allen in after-school programs and summer camps and programs that taught all kinds of handcrafts, such as knitting.
“So I learned to knit at a very young age,” Darling Allen said. “And my grandmother was a prolific knitter, and crocheter and cross-stitcher and needle-pointer and china painter. My grandmother was born too early. She would have been a powerhouse career woman.”
Maybe Darling Allen made up for what her grandmother couldn’t do?
“I have made up for her — for what she couldn’t do — I think to some degree,” Darling Allen said.
More people had left. Just a few remained. It was time to go. There had been no riots, attacks or worse at the Shasta County Registrar of Voters office. Instead, it was a mostly calm and peaceful day where democracy was alive and well, where people observed the process, and in the process sometimes observers sat beside people with whom they had little in common.
What was in store for Darling Allen the following day?
“More of the same,” Darling Allen said. “We’ll be back, processing ballots tomorrow.”
But first, she and her staff would leave the building in the dark toward their cars, escorted by security guards and deputies.
“We don’t take any risks,” Darling Allen said. “It’s a whole new world.”
With any luck, Shasta County will be a whole new better world come the March election.