Voters enter a polling station at Irvine City Hall in Irvine, Calif., on Nov. 2, 2020. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)
Huntington Beach is being warned of possible legal action by California’s top law enforcement and election law officials against the city’s proposed charter amendments that, in part, would require voter ID for future city elections.
Attorney General Rob Bonta and Secretary of State Shirley Weber, who is the state’s chief elections official, argued in a Sept. 28 letter to the council that the city’s proposed changes suppress voters from participating in local elections.
“[T]he City’s proposal to require voter identification at the polls in municipal elections conflicts with state law and would only serve to suppress voter participation without providing any discernible local benefit,” they wrote.
Under state law, voters are only required to provide a name and address to cast a ballot. Election workers have little authority to question voters, who are only required to verbally affirm, if questioned, their eligibility. Under state elections code, anyone found to illegally cast a ballot is subject to criminal prosecution.
Mr. Bonta and Ms. Weber warned city officials if they continued with the changes, they would be met with challenges.
“If the City moves forward and places it on the ballot, we stand ready to take appropriate action to ensure that voters’ rights are protected, and state election laws are enforced,” they said.
Of further concern, they said, is the city’s proposal to monitor their own ballot drop boxes. Again, under California elections code, “video recording a voter within 100 feet of a polling place,” or a ballot box, with the intent to dissuade another person from voting, is illegal.
They warned if the city implements their plan in a way that conflicts with the state law, they will face further pushback.
California Attorney General Rob Bonta speaks about last year's Huntington Beach oil spill investigation at the district attorney building in Santa Ana, Calif., on Sept. 8, 2022. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)
“Although the potential waste of local resources on a redundant ballot box monitoring system is the City’s concern ... our Offices will act to ensure it is not implemented in a way that interferes with the right to vote or otherwise conflicts with state law,” they wrote.
In summary, they said the city’s proposal is baseless, creates unnecessary restrictions on the voting process, conflicts with state law, and would lead to “mass, indiscriminate, and groundless challenging of voters,” in violation of the elections code.
The city voted this summer to direct its city attorney and staff to research a slew of amendments to the city charter including the possible voter ID requirement, monitoring of ballot drop boxes, changes to the required qualifications for city clerk hires, and how often some officials are elected, among other housekeeping issues.
Three special meetings were held in September to further discuss potential charter amendments, with some proposals being shot down such as changes of qualifications for city clerks not receiving enough Sept. 28.
But of all, the issue regarding voter ID has been the most contentious.
“I do believe this brings more comfort into the election process and people trust the election results more if you have a voter ID,” Mayor Tony Strickland said during an August meeting.
However, Councilman Dan Kalmick disagreed, saying residents have told him “there’s plenty of confidence” in the city’s elections.
The minority of the city council, consisting of Mr. Kalmick, Natalie Moser, and Rhonda Bolton, sent a letter to the Orange County Registrar of Voters Sept. 26 requesting clarification on the legal grounding of the proposed voter ID requirement. To date, they have not heard back.
In response to The Epoch Times, Registrar of Voters, Bob Page, said he couldn’t comment on the legality of the issue at this time.
“If the City Council places a Charter amendment measure on the ballot, I expect the City would request that the Orange County Registrar of Voters conduct that Charter amendment measure election. And as such, I must remain impartial and cannot be seen as having an opinion on the proposed Charter amendment,” he said in an email Oct. 2.
The Huntington Beach City Council conducts a meeting at the Civic Center in Huntington Beach, Calif., on Jan. 17, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)
The city’s newly elected conservative majority is standing behind the requirement, while minority councilors say they fear it would create unnecessary costs and not achieve fairer elections.
Under current law, the County Registrar and Secretary of State determine voter eligibility. As such, some said they are concerned that if the city violates state law, it could be on its own to conduct future elections.
Specifically, Ms. Bolton argued that without the state’s support, the county may be unwilling to take up the city’s election, thus leaving Huntington Beach on its own.
“If what we propose is not legal under state law with respect to state elections, and I think that’s pretty clear, then I think it’s highly unlikely that the Registrar of Voters is going to drop the state [and stay with us],” said Councilwoman Bolton Sept. 28 during the city’s most recent special council meeting.
City Attorney Michael Gates argued the threats from state officials wouldn’t hold up in court, since Mr. Bonta and Ms. Weber cited legal battles in their letter he said didn’t apply. In one such case, the city of Palmdale was prevented from certifying election results in 2013 because of the use of an at-large city council election.
“Those cases did not have to do with voter ID or monitoring of ballot boxes … So in a case like this, if it were to be a conflict and were to be adjudicated in court, I don’t think [the] city of Palmdale case comes to the state’s rescue in trying to establish that these proposals are not legally compliant,” Mr. Gates said.
He also said their letter reads more as a matter of opinion.
“It does keep talking about how these issues are a matter of statewide concern for the state. But a matter of statewide concern is a legal term,” he said. “It’s usually identified by the Legislature and ratified or validated by a court and it’s ... a stretch to claim that voter ID in Huntington Beach and monitoring of ballot boxes is a matter of statewide concern.”
The issue will be discussed—possibly finalized—again at another special City Council meeting Oct. 5.