Newsom recall leader funds recount of a California election that was not close

The choice wasn’t even close.

Last month, Natalie Adona won her race to become the secretary and registrar of voters in rural Nevada County with 68% of the vote – nearly 15,000 votes ahead of the man who took second place.

But despite Adona’s landslide victory, the race will be the subject of a potentially lengthy recount.

It is expected to take 38 days, cost more than $82,700 and require hiring temp workers to count nearly 38,000 ballots.

And it’s funded by Randy Economy, a leader in the unsuccessful Republican-backed effort to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom last year.

Economy spoke vaguely about his motivations, saying, “Something doesn’t smell right” about the county registrar’s race.

“We have a crisis here in this state of who is responsible for democracy and it’s not county officials and it’s not local city officials. It’s the people,” Economy said.

Economy was spokesperson and advisor to the Newsom recall campaign. Last September’s special federal election, in which voters overwhelmingly voted to keep Newsom in office, cost state and local governments more than $200 million.

In Nevada County, the involvement of Economy — a conservative radio host who lives nine hours south in the Coachella Valley — has stumped local officials, who say the recount is a waste of time and resources and nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt to cast doubt on the election process.

“I can only imagine that this is a process that is disruptive to the entire county, and it’s about further undermining confidence in our office,” said Gregory Diaz, the current Nevada County Court Clerk and Voter Registry serving in the retirement goes .

In California, any voter can request a recount, even if an election is ongoing, as long as the requester pays for it.

The Nevada County Board of Supervisors must appoint someone outside of the registrar’s office — likely a registrar from another county — to oversee the recount, which is expected to begin this week, Diaz said.

Natalie Adona

Natalie Adona, who won her election as Nevada County Secretary and Voter Registration, holds up a conspiracy-filled newspaper called the COVID Times.

(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

The typically mundane race for the record champions in the small foothills of the Sierra Nevada this year received a heavy dose of the conspiracy-fueled chaos that former President Trump and his supporters have infused into politics across the country.

The specter of Trump’s lie that the 2020 election was stolen loomed.

Adona, the deputy clerk and registrar, ran against two opponents who publicly questioned the integrity of the voting process and reflected the rabid distrust of elections that Trump has fomented.

One of their opponents, Paul Gilbert, a self-proclaimed “citizen inspector,” said he personally inspected the 2020 local election results and electoral rolls and found evidence of fraud — the county claims.

Gilbert told the Times he believes Trump has won and that poll officials should be allowed to break into and inspect voting machines because they may have cell phone modems hidden inside, gathering information for nefarious actors.

This, of course, is the kind of right-wing conspiracy theory about voting machine security that election officials across the country have been trying to debunk for two years.

Gilbert received 9% of the vote.

Adona’s other opponent, Jason Tedder — a Marine veteran who is supported by the local Republican Party — said on his campaign website that sheriff’s deputies must be present whenever ballots are collected from drop-off sites.

Ballots should be transported to the polling station in proxy vehicles and “tracked in real time” by GPS.

Tedder won 23% of the votes.

Adona, on the other hand, called the 2020 election legitimate. She drew the wrath of critics who dubbed her “carpet diggers” in ballot letters – a label some elected officials have called a racial slur against an Asian-American woman running for office in a predominantly white county.

Adona also had to obtain a restraining order after anti-maskers — who were trying to recall the entire Nevada County board of directors — forced their way into her workplace.

A man marks his ballot in a voting booth

Paul Gilbert, who ran for the Nevada County clerk and electoral roll, fills out his ballot at a polling center at the Eric Rood Administration Center in Nevada City for the June 2022 primary.

(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

Adona, a native of Vallejo, California, with 14 years of election experience, relocated to Nevada County in 2019 to work as an Assistant Clerk-Recorder/Registrar.

Economy said he had “doubts about the process” in which she won.

“You have a stranger who walked into a church and suddenly swamped everyone at an election? It just doesn’t pass the smell test,” Economy said.

In a July 4 letter to the county registrar, Economy said it requested the recount on behalf of Tedder, who finished second by a wide margin.

Tedder did not respond to calls and emails requesting comment.

Economy said he had been in touch with him “for several months” because of Tedder’s “concerns and red flags.”

Kim Nalder, director of the Sacramento State University project for an informed electorate, said that in the past recounts were only used when votes were very close, when there was a real chance it could go either way.

If a recount is requested in a landslide victory, it is most likely “a malicious attempt to undermine the legitimacy of elections” and “promote this narrative that there is widespread corruption among election officials.”

Recount requests, she said, are becoming more common.

Because of Trump, Nalder said, “we still have almost half the country now in doubt about elections, and it’s heartbreaking for democracy.”

“We cannot go on like this indefinitely into the future. We will not have democracy.”

In its request for a recount, Economy asked for the names, job responsibilities and wages of all poll workers — the types of workers who have faced so much harassment in recent years that California lawmakers are considering legislation that treats them with the same caution would like victims of domestic violence by allowing them to hide their home addresses from public records.

Business also asked that all postal ballot envelopes sent in, along with voters’ signatures, be made available for verification of their votes.

He said he made that request because he believes absentee ballots lead to fraud — the false claim Trump has repeatedly made.

Diaz said much of the information requested by Economy is not provided.

He said the manual recount process is slow and thorough. Each vote is read, counted and verbally confirmed by four people.

Diaz estimates that about 1,000 ballots can be counted every day. In a letter to Economy, Diaz requested payment of about $10,000 before the recount can begin and about $1,800 per day.

An employee leafs through envelopes at a table in an office

Poll workers separate mail-in ballots from envelopes for the June 2022 primary at the Eric Rood Administration Center in Nevada City, California.

(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

“I want to bill him for every staple, every paper clip,” Diaz said. “It’s a frivolous request.”

Diaz sent Economy’s letter asking for the recount to local media, angering Economy, which described it as a threat to “people who want to be pro-democracy activists.”

“He came on the phone and yelled at me because I informed the media and said, ‘How dare you?’ ‘ Diaz said. “I said, ‘How dare you?’ I don’t take that crap.”

“My bosses are the people,” he added. “If there will be a recount for a contest with a difference of 14,000 votes, I will inform my constituents. If there is a recount with a difference of five votes, I will inform my constituents.”

Adona, meanwhile, said she was just scratching her head over the whole thing.

“My first thought was – ‘why?’ ” She said.

“I can’t help but think there must be some reason other than wanting to change the outcome. That’s what worries me.” Newsom recall leader funds recount of a California election that was not close

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