Earlier today, the Lex Rex Institute sent an additional open letter to the Shasta County Board of Supervisors in response to the Record Searchlight article discussed below. You can read that letter here.
Record Searchlight, a publication based in Redding California, recently published an article by David Benda declaring that I - or, on one occasion, someone named "Haberbash" - was wrong to claim that CA counties permit unpaid election workers. I wasn’t wrong. Also, if you take the time to read what it says, Benda’s article doesn’t even claim I was.
The article bears the headline, “Fact check: These 11 CA counties don’t use unpaid election workers, despite lawyer’s claim.” This is odd, because my letter to the Shasta County Board of Supervisors, dated April 28, 2023, to which Mr. Benda is responding, cited not 11 but 15 counties. Benda later acknowledges this in the body of his article. So, maybe he’s citing the number of counties where I got it wrong? Not likely, because he only argues against our evidence in four of the counties cited.
Despite David Benda’s claim that “Haberbush did not return a phone message seeking comment,” neither I nor anyone at LRI received a call, message, or any other form of communication from either Benda or any other individual associated with Record Searchlight. It’s a shame, because, if someone had called, I (or another LRI representative) would happily have clarified these things. We would also have told him that the staff of LRI contacted, by phone, the Registrar of Voters for every county in California and asked them the same two simple questions: (1) Do you accept unpaid volunteers as poll workers? And, if the person on the phone answered in the negative, (2) What is the starting rate of pay, and for how many hours of work?
Then again, perhaps Benda didn’t call because he already knew this would be my answer. This, might, in fact, be the more likely option, given his article’s consistent distortion of facts from start to finish. Notably, I never claimed that 15 counties allow unpaid volunteer workers. Rather, I claimed that 15 counties told my staff that they permit unpaid volunteer workers. My staff called the listed phone number for each registrar. Each person spoken to was acting with the apparent authority of his or her county’s ROV. We are not now claiming, nor have we ever claimed, that this information is accurate – we have no way of knowing that. We’re just telling you what representatives of each ROV said. There is, of course, a chance that the individuals we spoke to were mistaken, or that they misunderstood what we were asking. With that in mind, my office has also submitted requests under the Public Records Act to each California county's Registrar of Voters, seeking precise documentation. We will certainly keep the public apprised when we receive further information.
Despite this, and according to Benda, it now appears that representatives of one county have changed their answer (maybe two, if you’re generous about the wording – more on that below).
Inyo County Registrar Danielle Sexton, one of the 15 county employees who answered “yes” when LRI asked if her county allowed unpaid volunteers, apparently later spoke with Mr. Benda. According to Benda’s article, Sexton said, of LRI’s representative, “They weren’t interested in information… That was somebody with an agenda.” Unless that agenda was to find out if Inyo County was using slaves, it’s not entirely clear how Ms. Sexton interpreted the word “volunteer” to mean “paid worker.”
Benda mentions only three more individuals from three additional counties whom he claims contradicted the earlier representations made to LRI that their county permits unpaid poll workers. Apart from apparently conceding that my letter was correct about 11 of the 15 counties who told us they accept unpaid workers, every one of these three individuals Benda cites in declaring us “wrong” (1) were not the same individuals who spoke with LRI representatives, and/or (2) did not contradict their prior statement. Several, in their alleged comments to Benda, mentioned that their county does allow volunteers, but not in the positions in which Shasta seeks to use them. That’s unsurprising, seeing as those counties do not manually count votes, and therefore do not have the same positions in which Shasta seeks to use them. It’s also irrelevant, since the matter my April 28 letter considered was whether unpaid volunteers are legally permissible. The code section Shasta’s ROV cited when arguing that volunteers are prohibited was a statute that applied to all poll workers. Showing that a huge proportion of California counties already permit unpaid poll workers in any capacity casts her interpretation into doubt, or at the very least shows that the statute is not enforced. Only one of the three, Tricia Webber of Santa Cruz, even commented on her county’s use of unpaid poll workers, saying that her county does not “have” unpaid volunteers (she did not comment on whether her county “accepts” volunteers, which was the question LRI posed).
So, if we’re as charitable as possible to the information presented in Benda’s article – more charitable, in fact, since the questions Benda asked differed from the ones LRI asked – and if we assume his facts are 100% accurate (I won’t claim I’ve reached out to him to clarify, but I will say that he did not provide a comment), we’re left with… 13 counties that allow unpaid volunteer poll workers.
So, I guess the headline is right – 11 California counties don’t permit unpaid election workers. 13 do.