In red California, anti-mask recall effort fizzles and a candidate harassed by election deniers wins

She was an Asian-American candidate in a predominantly white rural district who was dubbed a “dough butterfly” by her critics in campaign mail.

She was harassed by election deniers in 2020. And she had to obtain a restraining order after anti-masks forced her way into her workplace.

And on election night, Natalie Adona won her race for Nevada County Clerk and Voter Registry by a landslide victory. She had won 70% of the vote on Thursday.

“It’s a relief because I felt like I was being taken by the bell,” Adona said.

Like a growing number of small, local races, the unusually vicious election in this Sierra Nevada county has been beset by all the ills of contemporary American politics: conspiracy theories, denial, bitter partisanship, and anger at COVID-19 pandemic politics.

Ever since former President Trump lost the 2020 election and falsely claimed it was stolen from him, local polling stations have become the frontline for the rabid distrust he fomented in the election process. Poll workers across the country face such a constant barrage of harassment and threats that they’re resigning in droves across the country.

Adona said she must work hard in her new role as head of local elections to combat the kind of misinformation and mistrust that has fueled the vitriol she has faced. She is currently Assistant District Clerk and will replace her boss, Gregory Diaz, who is retiring.

Adona went up against Paul Gilbert, a self-proclaimed “citizen inspector” who said he personally inspected the 2020 local election results and electoral rolls. He said he found outdated voter rolls that included deaths and evidence of fraud — claims the county has refuted.

Paul Gilbert

Paul Gilbert, a candidate for the Nevada County clerk and electoral roll, is casting a ballot in the primary.

(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

Gilbert told The Times that he doubts the results of the 2020 presidential election because Trump has had bigger campaign rallies than President Biden, and that he thinks poll officials should be allowed to break into and inspect voting machines because they have hidden cell phone modems inside could be information for nefarious actors.

Gilbert had 8% of the vote Thursday.

Jason Tedder, a Navy veteran supported by the local GOP, received 22% of the vote. He did not respond to requests for comment.

He, too, publicly questioned the integrity of local elections.

On his website, Tedder said that if he had been elected, he would have needed two workers and a sheriff’s deputy to be present each time ballots were collected at drop-off sites. The ballots, he said, would be placed in the MP’s vehicle to be taken to the polling station and they would be “tracked in real time using the GPS already installed in the patrol car,” which should be tracked by poll workers.

Despite complaints about “electoral integrity” and a lack of transparency from Adona’s opponents, it was quiet in the election office on Tuesday evening. Adona said she saw a citizen observer that evening.

A Times reporter checked the YouTube live stream from four cameras at the county elections office several times during election night and was the only person watching.

Nevada County Superintendent Heidi Hall said this week’s results showed local voters were fed up with conspiratorial, anti-government policies.

“I’m grateful that people recognized the urgency and came out to vote,” Hall said. “It speaks to this community as a solid, sane, educated county.

“We have a small, angry group of extremists. … The majority isn’t interested in these extreme ideas or in politics.”

Last week, a recall against all five Nevada County supervisors over alleged “crimes against humanity” and enforcing pandemic restrictions fell through when supporters missed their deadline to submit signatures to force a special election.

In January, when a statewide mask mandate was in effect, a group of recall advocates showed up at the county elections office where Adona worked to check on the status of her petition.

They refused to wear masks, and a woman pushed a district worker as she and two others forced their way into the locked office. A judge later issued a restraining order against her.

One of the recall’s most vocal advocates, Calvin Clark, eventually ran for a seat on the board against an incumbent, Susan Hoek.

Clark received just 16% of the vote on Thursday. Hoek received 84%.

Both could not be reached for comment.

Hall said that despite two years of harassment and threats during the pandemic, she’s not overly concerned about the recall effort Clark led.

“It’s just such a loud minority,” she said. “This is performative politics.” In red California, anti-mask recall effort fizzles and a candidate harassed by election deniers wins

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