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Conservative activist calls off his request for a recount in an election won by a landslide

Poll workers handling ballots in an office
Poll workers separate mail-in ballots from envelopes at the Eric Rood Administration Center in Nevada City, Calif., on June 6.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
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A conservative activist who sought a hand recount of a rural Northern California election that his candidate lost in a landslide defeat called it off Monday, one day before it was set to begin.

Randy Economy — a leader of the unsuccessful Republican-backed effort to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom last year — requested a recount last week in the race for Nevada County clerk-recorder and registrar of voters, part of a right-wing movement to take control of local and state election apparatuses across the nation.

Natalie Adona won the race last month with 68% of the vote. She was nearly 15,000 votes ahead of Jason Tedder, who came in second place.

Economy requested the recount in a July 4 letter to the county registrar, saying he was doing so on behalf of Tedder, a Navy veteran who was endorsed by the local Republican party.

Economy called off the recount Monday afternoon, the day The Times published an article about it.

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A leader of the effort to recall California Gov. Gavin Newsom is funding a recount in a Nevada County election beset by conspiracy theories and claims of voter fraud.

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Now county officials are fuming, saying that even though the recount was called off late Monday, they wasted time and resources preparing to start counting ballots — a process that involved the elections office, the county’s attorney, the Board of Supervisors, human resources and the county’s chief executive officer.

“The purpose here was disruption, and it’s all designed to muddle trust in our office,” said Gregory Diaz, the Nevada County clerk-recorder and registrar of voters, who is retiring.

“Now, we basically get stiffed for the prep time,” he said.

The involvement of Economy — a conservative radio host who lives nine hours south in the Coachella Valley — infuriated local officials, who called the whole thing a stunt designed to waste of time and erode trust in local elections.

Natalie Adona
Natalie Adona won her election to become the Nevada County clerk-recorder and registrar of voters in June.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

State election law requires a recount to begin within seven days of it being requested, and county staffers last week began physically moving ballots from a secure location into a room where they would be recounted.

Economy on Monday said he called off the recount, in part, because he thought ballots had been “compromised” because elections staffers handled them and the recount involved their office.

He said he thought law enforcement officers should have moved the ballots instead.

That is not the conventional way in most counties, nor is it required by law.

“I want to know who touched those ballots, and at what point,” Economy said. “I’m not a conspiracy theorist. I just want the facts.”

The recount would have involved an election that was already beset by the conspiracy-laden chaos former President Trump and his supporters have injected into politics around the nation.

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Adona ran against two men who publicly questioned the integrity of the voting process, echoing the rabid distrust in elections that Trump has fomented.

One of her opponents, Paul Gilbert, a self-described “citizen auditor,” said he personally inspected local 2020 election results and voting rolls and found evidence of fraud — which the county disputes.

Tedder, who got 23% of the vote, said on his campaign website that sheriff’s deputies needed to be present each time ballots were collected at drop-off locations.

In Nevada County, a race for a county office has turned vicious, with claims of voter fraud and harassment of election workers.

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Ballots, he said, should be transported to the elections office in deputy vehicles and “tracked in real time” using GPS.

Tedder, who publicly criticized what he called a lack of transparency from the elections office, did not respond to numerous requests for comment.

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Diaz said Tedder sent a letter to the Board of Supervisors on Monday afternoon in which he criticized Diaz for alerting local media to inform the public that a recount had been requested on his behalf.

“Rather than simply processing the request for recount, Greg Diaz deliberately leaked this story to the press and slandered the intent of a lawful action which has directly resulted in my being harassed by email and phone,” read the emailed letter, which was posted on the supervisors’ website as a public comment.

“As someone who endeavors to become an election official I am concerned that this action may cause violence toward myself [and] my family and ultimately discourage future qualified candidates from seeking to run for this office.”

Diaz said that one minute before that letter arrived, Economy sent the elections office a one-sentence note backing off the recount.

In a letter last week, Diaz told Economy — who, as the requester of the recount, was legally responsible for paying for it up front — that it was expected to take 38 days and cost more than $82,700 to count about 38,000 ballots.

The week of preparation for the recount cost the county about $10,000, Diaz said Monday.

A room had already been prepared, and the county was arranging to have a security guard present when ballots were being counted.

On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors was expected to appoint a registrar from another county to oversee the recount since it involved the office of county registrar-recorder, Diaz said.

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Economy told The Times after he pulled the plug on the effort that “it was never specifically about the outcome of the election” and that he just wanted to make a point about the process.

Requesting a recount, he said, is legitimate and legal, but “everybody who was involved in this process were laughed at, ridiculed, screamed at by this one county clerk’s office.”

Adona, the assistant clerk-recorder, works in the elections office but would not have been involved in the recount involving her own election.

She said it seemed like those behind the recount had been “lashing out at people.”

“Don’t get me wrong, we’re all glad that this election can wrap up and be final,” she said, “but it was a lot of work.”

The election for her local office was typically mundane — until recently.

“But, man, my life’s been kind of surreal,” she said.

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