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In red California, recall backers fuel unfounded claims of 'rigged' voting, bait workers

LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 14: Students, staff and nearby residents cast their ballots at UCLA Ackerman Union as polls were open Tuesday for Californians to decide whether Gov. Gavin Newsom should be removed from office and, if so, who should replace him in a recall election. UCLA on Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021 in Los Angeles, CA. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times).
Students, staff and nearby residents cast their ballots at UCLA Ackerman Union as polls were open Tuesday for the gubernatorial recall election. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

The Central Valley has long been a stronghold for red California. And on Tuesday, there were loud voices of support for the recall while some election workers had to deal with taunts over unfounded conservative claims of election fraud.

The neighborhood of Fig Garden Loop in Fresno is known for big houses and yards full of fruit trees. Old money. Old farmers and ranchers. The polling place was at a business called Elite Venues.

After her shift, election supervisor Rebekah Doughty said her lip hurt from biting it so hard, as almost half the voters who came in were spoiling for a fight.

“They walked in just baiting: ‘How many dead people are voting here?’”

“They questioned the pens. They said the machines didn’t read our type of pens.”

“They pointed to the Dominion machines and said they were the center of the fraud.”

Workers were trained to answer that there were multiple steps in place to ensure the safety of votes and they were welcome to come down to the counting facility and watch.

Doughty worked the primary and the general election but said this was by far the most tense and problematic. She was glad she did it.

“This is going to give me goosebumps to explain it,” she said. “But I believe in the right to vote. I believe it should be accessible. If we lose the sanctity and trust of our democracy — which is voting — then we’re not a state of for or by the people.”

Doughty returned to Fresno from the Bay Area four years ago, and she is worried about California. “We used to have the ability to have dialogue. I had Republican friends and we got into loving discussions with both sides willing to listen.

“The last few years no one wants to listen. It’s all ‘the system is rigged.’ They don’t trust the system, but they’re still participating,” she said.

She thinks the recall election was frivolous and a waste. “We don’t need to be spending money on a recall election a year from an election when there are so many other things: schools, hospitals, healthcare, social justice and, yes, potholes! I’ve had to repair my car several times,” Doughty said.

Jeff Kindler, a self-described working man and business owner, pulled up to his polling place in Fresno in a white work truck for his window repair company.

He wanted to cast his ballot to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom in person.

“I sure don’t like the mail-in voting thing. I’ve been doing it in person all my life,” he said, adding that voting is “one of the most important things you can do as an American.”

Kindler laughed about poll workers asking him to lick the envelope to seal his ballot.

“I’m not the brightest guy, but you’re worried about COVID and you have people licking envelopes?”

He said the recall election is a waste of money, and he placed the blame for it on Newsom’s decision to have dinner at an upscale restaurant in the heart of Napa Valley wine country as the pandemic raged late last year.

“If he had not gone to the French Laundry this wouldn’t have happened. People saw that and they were pissed. Here he was dropping $15K on a 50-year-old’s birthday party and meantime I couldn’t go to my friend’s funeral,” he said.

Kindler isn’t passionate about any of the candidates running to replace Newsom. He just wants “someone who is going to run it better,” he said.

In Bakersfield, Elsy Ruiz is looking for change.

“Homelessness. Crime. I just don’t feel safe anymore,” said Ruiz, 46, of Bakersfield. “Gas is so high right now. It’s become choosing between a gallon of milk or gas.”

Ruiz has lived in Bakersfield since 1992 and said she’s seen on TV how things have changed for the worse in the state. She wouldn’t even consider visiting Los Angeles anymore — a developing nation is better off, she said.

The tipping point was how Gov. Gavin Newsom handled the pandemic. He ordered lockdowns and caused businesses to shut down, she said.

“That was the cherry on top,” she said.

It got so bad that she visited Texas and Arizona over the summer to see where she could move with her husband after her 16-year-old turns 18. On election day at the Norman Levan Center at Bakersfield College, Ruiz voted in favor of the recall. She believes GOP candidate and talk show host Larry Elder would help steer the Golden State in a better direction.

“Elder has a different perspective,” she said. “Let’s try something new.”

Marcum reported from Fresno; Vega from Bakersfield.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.