The recall vote-counting has yet to begin, but election officials already are experiencing surveillance befitting a spy novel.
In Seal Beach, election workers arrive to pick up ballots from a county drop box outside of Leisure World and, no matter what time of day they make their rounds, are invariably met by a man who pops out to take their picture. Other election workers report individuals photographing their license plates. At ballot processing centers, volunteer observers keep a close eye on those approving the signatures on unopened ballots — and sometimes are challenging the validity of the signatures, a practice that is banned in some counties and has been declared illegal by at least one judge.
Election watch campaigns are running full force as California nears the Tuesday close of the gubernatorial recall election, only slightly toned down from the suspicion and accusations that dogged the November presidential contest as they collect what they say is fodder for future court challenges and political campaigns.
In some cases, election chiefs are pushing back, debunking false rumors they might have ignored in the past or shutting down voter signature challenges they say were abused — marking new battle lines in the nation’s political misinformation war.
“I still try to be diplomatic. But I’m at the point where I say, ‘Enough,’” said Orange County Registrar Neal Kelley, whose duties Thursday included dealing with an agitated volunteer election watcher upset that election staffers were approving voter signatures he believed should be rejected. “This needs to be called out. … It’s just gotten absurd.”
Statewide, nearly half a dozen California groups are currently running election fraud campaigns, though poll observer logs from four counties — Orange, San Diego, Fresno and San Luis Obispo — show the vote watchers hail almost exclusively from one organization: the Election Integrity Project.
The organization, which grew out of the tea party movement, says it has trained some 4,000 observers to police the recall, including 300 in Los Angeles County, though reports suggest the numbers of observers showing up so far are a fraction of that. Still, some registrars are concerned the group’s claims about problems with mailed ballots will discourage people from voting and undermine confidence in the election process.