Grand jury report calls elections office well prepared
Grand Jury reviews, legitimizes local voting process
Participants in the 2020 presidential election navigated COVID-19 restrictions, Public Safety Power Shut-offs, delayed mail delivery and possible voter intimidation, but the Nevada County grand jury determined the local voting process was indeed lawful in a report published earlier this month.
The jury’s report noted that after all ballots were tallied, 87.6% — 65,800 of 75,123 — of the county’s registered voters had cast ballots in the 2020 election.
“Close to 90% of our voters turned out,” the grand jury’s Outreach Chair Larry Loper said. “That’s a tremendous turnout by any measure.”
According to the report, election officials estimated that nine in 10 ballots cast in the region were done so by mail.
Two designated ballot retrievers collected the vote-by-mail ballots from 14 official drop boxes on a regular basis and followed a strict “chain of custody” to ensure that the ballots were monitored throughout the tabulation process.
“Dual custody of the ballots was maintained at all times during the process,” the Nevada County grand jury report said.
The grand jury’s foreperson, David Anderson, said the jury does not always issue a report post-election, but chose to this year in light of the local and national interest in the 2020 presidential election process.
Anderson said the county was well prepared to handle any potential issues — ideological or infrastructural — and were successful stewards of an essential component of American democracy.
“We really found that the county office had done an outstanding job with training,” Loper said.
Natalie Adona, Nevada County’s assistant clerk-recorder and registrar of voters, said the record breaking participation was just one facet of her office’s preparation.
According to the report, the county hired and trained 120 additional workers to man and support election day stations. Further, the county created contingency plans in case the building lost power, keeping generators, extra lights and ballots on hand.
“Fortunately, everything ran smoothly,” Loper said. “The county is operating as it should. In this case, ’no news is good news.’”
Adona was quoted in an article published in the Washington Post on tensions at early voting sites across the United States in October. Adona said the size of the crowds gathered outside the Eric Rood Administrative Center prior during the early voting period could have interfered with voters access to their ballot boxes.
Adona said election officials need to “strike a balance between people’s right to vote and people’s right to political expression.”
Adona said although there were no issues with electioneering on voting day, the laws meant to protect voters at drop boxes are less known or understood.
“It’s not a problem if people want to express views on government property,” Adona added. “It’s actually a public forum for free speech.”
Adona said her concerns in October peaked when demonstrators outside the county government building became so dense they impeded access to the drop box on site.
“There were a couple hundred Trump supporters,” Adona explained, “and whether intentionally or not, they were in the buffer zone of that drop box.”
Adona said she was the only one inside the building during the aforementioned demonstration and could not leave because her car was blocked in the parking lot.
“Some folks might find a rally like that intimidating,” Adona said.
Adona said the event was peaceful, and a call to the county counsel revealed that the Republic Committee had scheduled the event.
Anderson said the grand jury has reported a few incidents of people attempting to enter voting facilities wearing political attire.
“They were escorted outside, monitored by the election personnel and allowed to vote,” Anderson said.
Adona said shirts with generalized political statements, like “Black Lives Matter” or “Down with liberals,” are permitted, but not with names of political candidates like “Biden-Harris 2020” or “Trump-Pence 2020.”
Adona said some constituents believe their understanding of the law is more comprehensive than those employed by her office.
Many voters called in this year to ask questions based off what they saw reported by the media.
“The general rule is to answer misinformation with the truth,” Adona said. “That is the best inoculate for misleading or otherwise false information.”
Adona said she was grateful for the grand jury’s input because she wants “the truth to be out there.”
“These are elections,” Adona said. “There’s going to be a winner and a loser, that’s just the way things go.”
Adona said she believes the majority of Nevada County trusts her office to do its job well, transparently and lawfully.
“At the end of the day we had a really smooth election,” Adona said. “People who wanted to vote got that right.”
Loper said the 19-person volunteer grand jury explores issues upon request and investigates public institutions’ operations to determine where the use of tax dollars can be optimized.
The report, dated Dec. 1, was actually issued Feb. 2, Anderson said. Anderson said the printed date indicates the last time the data was collected before the jurors offered their analysis.
Rebecca O’Neil is a staff writer for the Sierra Sun and The Union, a sister publication of the Sun.
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