Shasta County officials warn of people impersonating election officials, voter intimidation

Recall supporter Patty Plumb (front) stands in front of the Shasta County Clerk's Office.
A February 2021 photo of Patty Plumb in front of the Shasta County Clerk's Office, where votes for a recent recall election were being counted. Her husband Ron Plumb and Marjorie Andrews are standing to her right. (Anita Chabria / Los Angeles Times)

Shasta County officials are warning residents about a group of people impersonating election officials who are questioning voters about their registration.

Members of the group wear reflective vests and claim to be part of a "voter task force," said County Clerk and Registrar of Voters Cathy Darling Allen. She said her office has not authorized any house calls and that she considers these kinds of aggressive tactics to be a form of voter intimidation.

These people sometimes claim to represent an elected official or are otherwise vague about their affiliation, Allen said. They are not conducting door-to-door canvassing but instead are driving into neighborhoods, parking in front of people's homes and knocking on their doors to ask them questions.

"All of those things combined made me very concerned," Allen told The Times.

The clerk and registrar of voter's office received four messages from Shasta County voters about house calls in mid-September. On Monday, Allen released an advisory notifying the public that the county did not authorize these at-home interviews.

"The Shasta County Election Department confirms and validates all applications for voter registration. This is performed through a number of channels, none of which include personal visits on a Saturday, or any other day," Allen said in the advisory.

The clerk and registrar of voter's office received several additional calls since the release went out with voters saying they were also visited and asked questions about their voter registration. She referred all the cases to local law enforcement officials.

Shasta County resident Margaret Cantrell claimed she's part of a group auditing the county's voter registration.

"There is a claim that our canvassers have been aggressive," Cantrell said during the Sept. 13 Shasta County Board of Supervisors meeting.

"I don't know what is meant by that," she said. "If one of our canvassers was out of line, I apologize. However, I question the veracity of that statement because that is not who we are."

She said members of her group have not asked people whom they voted for.

"A person's vote is sacred. It is illegal to ask that," Cantrell said.

In recent years, Shasta County has become a lightning rod for political discourse and voter intimidation at the public board meetings, where residents openly threatened elected officials. Former President Trump won Shasta County in 2020 and much like the former president, a vocal contingent in the county has repeated false claims that he won the election.

This summer, a vocal contingent of local residents claimed there were "irregularities" with the local election, which was flush with far-right challengers seeking to unseat incumbent politicians.

The Shasta County Board of Supervisors voted in a 3-2 decision to certify the results of the June election, but not after hours of debate from residents who questioned the validity of voting machines, allegations of miscounted ballots and members of the public saying they feared for their safety at public meetings. In recent years, the rhetoric surrounding politics in Shasta County has become heated and threatening.

The unauthorized "voter task force" visited homes in the cities of Redding and Anderson, both in Shasta County. Redding Police Chief Bill Schueller said his office received a few calls about the individuals in reflective vests who identify themselves as members of the "voter task force."

"We don't have anyone actually reporting they were intimidated," Schueller told The Times. Just one person in Redding reported they were visited by the group, he said, and that person refused to talk to the individuals.

His office referred the case to the Shasta County District Attorney's Office, because the "voter task force" contacted voters across multiple jurisdictions.

"I've asked people if they're visited by these individuals to take out their phones and record their conversations," Schueller said. "We take this seriously. Now, folks are allowed to do canvassing, but you can’t intimidate voters."

Schueller said the individuals purchased the voter registration information from the county, but it's unclear whether they are targeting a specific group of people.

Lt. Steve Blunk with the Anderson Police Department said he hasn't received any information from the county about the incidents or any calls from concerned citizens. Shasta County Sheriff's Office spokesperson Tim Mapes said his office also did not receive any information about these types of incidents.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.