Allegations of voter fraud, voter intimidation, voter suppression

Sarabecca Barnett

Last week the Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Department sent out a press release reporting that it conducted voter fraud investigations in Klamath River Country Estates in the Hornbrook area, Mt. Shasta Vista, and the Mt. Shasta Forest area outside McCloud, in conjunction with State of California investigators, the District Attorney, and CAL FIRE.

According to Lori Shellenberger of the American Civil Liberties Union, her organization was contacted on Friday afternoon by Andy Fusso of Siskiyou Forward “to let us know there was an unfolding situation that looked to be a targeted campaign to suppress the Hmong community vote.”

“No cases of voter fraud have been reported to the District Attorney for any action,” according to Shellenberger. “We are working with community leaders to look into the complaints that the Sheriff was armed and was visiting Hmong community members and questioning their voter registrations,” said Shellenberger.

It was recently reported that voter registrations in the County have increased by more than 1,850 over the last few months.

Lopey said yesterday that of the cases investigated, some included ties to other jurisdictions and counties, with approximately half of the cases having evidence of voter fraud.

“To be criticized for doing your job is unreasonable,” concluded Lopey. “We do not discriminate against any group. These attorneys are coercing us into not doing our jobs, and that’s my job, to enforce the law, assisting a legitimate agency. To make it out to be something that it isn’t is blatantly misleading to the public, and a disservice to the men and women who serve our community.”

In the Sheriff’s Office press release, Lopey was quoted saying, “While we encourage all eligible citizens to register and vote in the upcoming election(s), we are supportive of the state investigative efforts because deliberate voter fraud is a serious criminal offense and monitoring and enforcement serves to protect the integrity of our voter registration and elections’ systems.”

He said yesterday that his office was contacted by the State investigators weeks before and that his office was “helping another agency enforce the law. We were asked to assist, just doing our job to help other agencies enforce the law.”

Shellenberger explained that since the situation was brought to their attention on Friday, the ACLU worked to train about 40 poll workers and that the State of California and the Attorney Generals office sent “state officials to ensure the Hmong community” was given their right to vote.

According to a statement from Rachele Huennekens, press secretary for Attorney General Kamala D. Harris, “the California Attorney General’s office is assisting the Secretary of State’s office to monitor polling places in Siskiyou County, and ensure that all voters are able to cast their ballots free from intimidation, interference, or threats of violence. We are specifically monitoring reports of alleged voter intimidation among vulnerable minority populations, such as the Hmong community. Anyone who witnesses or is subject to voter intimidation should report it to the Secretary of State’s office.”

Similarly the Sheriff's office requests people report any knowledge of voter fraud to the SCSO 24-hour Dispatch Center at (530) 841-2900.

The ACLU will continue to monitor the situation: “Our number one priority is that the Hmong people feel safe to vote and that those ballots be counted,” explained Shellenberger. “We and the State will monitor the vote count to make sure the election is fair, credible, and based on actual votes.”

Attorneys Kyndra Miller (CannaBusiness Law) and Brian Ford (Pier 5), reported that their Siskiyou County Hmong clients felt intimidated when uniformed officers came onto their properties with assault weapons and body armor to question them about their voter registrations and questioned the validity of their residences.

To come on someone’s property with assault weapons is intimidation,” said Miller explaining she has many clients that were terrified to vote. “In the United States of America, in 2016, to have this type of behavior, it shocks the conscious.”

Sheriff Lopey called the accusations “absolutely outrageous and preposterous. It’s the reverse and not consistent with the facts.”

The Sheriff’s Office stated that it was “assisting the state investigators, which entailed security and investigative assistance, some county ordinance violations were observed and some persons were cited for those misdemeanor violations.”

The Sheriff explained that residents have not always been friendly, have been armed and have pit bulls; since the State investigators have limited peace officer powers, the Sheriff’s Office was there for protection.

Attorneys Ford and Miller claim that a checkpoint was set up at the entrance to a Hmong community and people were stopped and questioned about their voter registration status.

“We had no checkpoint set up,” reported Lopey. “They are not constitutional unless there is some immediate, law enforcement purpose. It’s outrageous that anyone would even think that, there are people putting out accusations that aren’t right.”

The ACLU said it plans to continue to work with the Hmong people’s lawyers “to document the instances of intimidation and violations of The Voting Rights act of 1965 (like what happened in Selma). It is a violation of Federal and State law to intimidate voters and interfere with an election.”

Shellenberg said there were reports of very long lines in Hmong areas. “The Hmong community is turning out to vote, they are very brave. They are refugees in this country, they came here to escape that kind of oppression and they shouldn’t be facing it on Election Day.”

“These are peace loving people, they are our veterans, they fought in Vietnam, they fought for us,” said Miller, “the first and only time Congress ordered us to go back to a country was to save the Hmong people. The reason they like the Siskiyou County area is because it reminds them of their home.”

The Hmong’s lawyer Miller said that “they are not going anywhere, they registered because they want to be part of the community, they are non-violent.”

“People are very scared, they felt that their land was being impeded,” said attorney Ford. “It’s a fundamental sort of issue which strikes at everything we hold as a value in America.”

Miller and Ford both relayed that their clients were given misinformation regarding their rights to vote and threatened with code violations and felony prosecution.

District Attorney Kirk Andus said in the Sheriff’s Office press release that he was pleased that the State had initiated the investigation.

“I put those on notice that have registered to vote at a place where they do not live in an effort to fraudulently impact an election, and then follow through by casting a vote, that we will pursue these cases very seriously,” stated Andrus.

“Essentially, the county is telling the Hmong community that they cannot vote,” said Ford in a press release, “because if they use their property to prove their residence, the county will prosecute them for living there; and if they do not live on their land, the county will prosecute them for voting,”

Lopey said yesterday, “The majority, according to my people, of plots and lands that they visited weren’t even occupied, some had fences up and marijuana, but no residential dwellings.”

“Of the 200 potential voter fraud cases,” continued Lopey, they visited only approximately 39 locations. “Many of these plots didn’t have residences, no evidence of anyone living there, no signs of residential habitation.”