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Voter Integrity or Voter Intimidation?

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This election season, county clerks in Northern California have reported hearing about so-called “voter integrity” groups. Erik Neumann from Jefferson Public Radio reports, the activity has been seen as voter intimidation by some.

Cathy Darling Allen first heard about the door knockers in late September. The Shasta County Clerk says she got reports of three resident’s homes being visited in the small town of Anderson and one in Redding.

Darling Allen: 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.

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

Darling Allen: 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.

Darling Allen says 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 just north of here in Southern Oregon.

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

Frank: 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 visited Shasta County in mid-September, before County Clerk Cathy Darling Allen heard about the door knocking. He wore his trademark American flag bow-tie and gave a presentation to the Shasta County board of supervisors

Frank says he uses election records and census data to look for irregularities in voting records. Then he compiles local addresses for canvassers to check for voter fraud.

Frank: The local citizens will be bringing you hundreds of cases of undeniable fraud.

There is no evidence to support Frank’s accusations that local elections were stolen. And the analysis behind his conclusions is flawed… says Justin Grimmer, a political science professor at Stanford.

Grimmer: There’s no truth to Doug Frank’s claims.

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

Grimmer: It’s just that 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.

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

Grimmer: 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.

Ryan Ronco is the clerk of Placer County, east of Sacramento, another place Doug Frank focused on to recruit residents.

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

Ronco: 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.

When residents do that, he says, they generally leave satisfied that their local election is being run safely.

Ronco says it’s on every California Registrar to increase their transparency.

Ronco: …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.

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

From the California-Oregon border, I’m Erik Neumann.