MAGA Election Denialism Still Has A Firm Grip On Red California County

Shasta County officials and election experts worry the conspiracy theories will only intensify ahead of the 2024 election.
REDDING, CA-NOVEMBER 8, 2022: left to right-Shasta County Supervisors Tim Garman, Patrick Jones and Mary Rickert are photographed during the Shasta County Board of Supervisors regular meeting inside the Board Chambe... REDDING, CA-NOVEMBER 8, 2022: left to right-Shasta County Supervisors Tim Garman, Patrick Jones and Mary Rickert are photographed during the Shasta County Board of Supervisors regular meeting inside the Board Chambers in Redding. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images) MORE LESS
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Election administrators in a deep red Northern California county have been facing off  with an ongoing election denial stronghold in the county that local officials and election experts worry will only intensify ahead of the 2024 election.

Shasta County has been a breeding ground for various far-right Big Lie activities since the 2020 election, much of which has been helped along by MyPillow Guy Mike Lindell. Most recently, a Lindell-backed candidate for county board is attempting to overturn her primary loss. 

The conspiracy theorist-endorsed candidate for a Shasta County Board position, Laura Hobbs, ran on a simple platform during the March primary. “I am 100% MAGA and America First. I am a stay-at-home mom with a doctorate in microbiology,” Hobbs said in her candidacy statement. “I support hand-counted, fair, and transparent elections. I will fight for the citizens of Shasta County to retain our sovereignty and all of our God-given rights.”

After losing last month’s Shasta County Board of Supervisors primary race by a significant margin, Hobbs, who has been endorsed by Lindell, as well as conspiracy theorist and so-called “election integrity expert” Douglas Frank and the California Rifle and Pistol Association, is doing what any MAGA candidate would do in the face of an obvious election loss: she’s contesting the results of the election, making wild accusations of widespread voter fraud and challenging the election in court. 

It’s this type of election denialism at the local level, experts and officials say, that is, as we have seen following the 2020 election,  reflective of a larger trend — one that is sure to grow this cycle as Donald Trump and his allies are already setting themselves up to challenge any result that doesn’t put him back in the White House. 

“Conspiracy theories are based on lies, and I feel like that’s what we’re seeing at the federal level, and we’re seeing a mirror image of those same efforts here in Shasta County,” Shasta County Clerk and Registrar of Voters Cathy Darling Allen told TPM.

Hobbs’ suit and others like it in local counties around the country are indicative of what’s to come in 2024, David Becker, the executive director and founder of the nonpartisan Center for Election Innovation and Research told TPM. And it highlights just how important it is for officials to prepare to see more of these cases. 

“It appears now there is a class of candidates who in an evenly divided nation can’t accept the fact that they might lose,” Becker said, describing this specific suit in Shasta County as “just another in a long line of sore loser lawsuits.” 

“And I would be shocked if we didn’t have more cases where losing candidates lie about their losses and are unable to accept defeat,” he continued.

Hobbs came in second place with only 19.2% of the votes, but still filed a lawsuit against the Shasta County registrar of voters this month, claiming that there were “many illegal ballots cast in this election,” and demanding that the court “find moot” the nomination of the winner, Allen Long.

Among the many wild complaints in her lawsuit related to alleged election errors that somehow caused her to lose 539 votes, Hobbs claims in particular that the Registrar of Voters “discriminated against” her during the ballot designation process because they did “not let her state her occupation as ‘microbiologist’, even though she has credentials in that field.”

Becker stressed that there is no evidence to support her claims of election errors and “illegal ballots,” noting that in Shasta County, all of the ballots are reconciled against the voter lists — in other words, these elections are highly secure, he said. 

Only days after filing the lawsuit against the Shasta County registrar of voters, Hobbs requested a hand recount of ballots, which was supposed to take place on April 8. But, as Shasta County Assistant County Clerk Joanna Francescut explained in an interview with TPM, after Hobbs was presented with the cost of the recount, an estimated $8,626, Hobbs simply declined to pay. Lindell — who, in a conversation with TPM, did not immediately remember whether he endorsed Hobbs in the election or not — told TPM that he would have funded Hobbs’s recount if she had approached him.

The reason she declined to pay, posited Francescut, is that Hobbs was likely “ultimately frustrated that we were going to follow the regulations.” Francescut suggested Hobbs likely would prefer to spend money on her lawsuit instead of the recount. 

Hobbs, in an email to TPM, claimed that she did not move forward with the recount, in part, because Francescut was going to use what Hobbs described as faulty machines to select which ballot to recount. 

This isn’t the first time the MAGA influenced California County has been involved in election denial litigation, which Shasta County election officials say only makes their jobs harder, especially going into November.  

Last year, after a handful of far-right election deniers were elected to the county board, the board of supervisors attempted to adopt a hand-counting voting system, an effort that was fueled in part by Lindell and rooted in debunked theories about election machines. 

In October of last year, however, Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill into law, making it illegal to hand count ballots in most cases. Despite the new law going into effect immediately, the Shasta County elections commission voted in February to send a recommendation to the county’s board of supervisors, advising a move to hand-counting ballots. The recommendation violates both state and federal law, according to Attorney General Rob Bonta

That past conspiracy mess is part of why Francescut isn’t at all surprised that the county is now embroiled in yet another baseless election denial lawsuit. 

“There’s been a lot of accusations that we’re not being transparent and we’re not connecting the elections according to law,” Francescut said. “And it’s just been going back and forth with denialism and allegations of fraud, and they’re just making elections a political game.” 

Darling Allen similarly described Hobb’s efforts, and election denial activity in the county more generally, as “as an effort to create chaos and burn everything down.”

“Most of these efforts feel incredibly destructive and not at all intended to improve the system or make government work better,” she added. 

Mary Rickert, Shasta County board member  who recently announced that, for health reasons, she is taking a leave of absence, similarly said the lawsuit and recount was a “waste of resources.”

But, again, the fact that another election lawsuit is playing out in Shasta County is standard procedure after a recent right-wing takeover of the county board. “You have our board majority that’s strong proponents of election denial and voter fraud,” Rickert said. “And so they appointed three like-minded people to represent them.”

“I do think we’re going to have a real critical issue on our hands as far as ensuring the voters in Shasta County the ability to vote in November,” she said. “I think it’s going to be a problem and I think the state of California will eventually step in.”

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