California challenges Huntington Beach voter ID measure, announces lawsuit

Tuesday, April 16, 2024
California challenges Huntington Beach voter ID measure
The state of California is challenging the legality of a voter-identification measure recently approved by residents of Huntington Beach.

HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif. (CNS) -- The state of California is challenging the legality of a voter-identification measure recently approved by residents of Huntington Beach and has announced a lawsuit saying it conflicts with and is preempted by existing state law.

"The right to freely cast your vote is the foundation of our democracy and Huntington Beach's voter ID policy flies in the face of this principle," Attorney General Rob Bonta said in a statement released Monday.

A narrow majority of Huntington Beach voters passed the measure in the March election. The measure amended the city charter to authorize the city to implement a requirement for voters to show identification when casting in-person ballots. The measure does not automatically enact the requirement.

Bonta and California Secretary of State Shirley Weber contend, however, that cities cannot exact local ordinances that conflict with state law, noting that the integrity of elections and protection of the right to vote "are matters of statewide concern."

"This voter ID measure conflicts with state law," Weber said in a statement. "Not only is it a solution in search of a problem, laws like these are harmful to California voters, especially low-income, the elderly, people of color, those with disabilities, and young voters."

City attorney Michael Gates defended the measure in a statement.

"The Attorney General's press release that the city's Voter ID requirements violate state law is inconsistent with, in fact in direct conflict with, (state) Sen. David Min's, D-Irvine, new bill attempting to make Huntington Beach's Voter ID illegal," Gates said. "That blatant inconsistency speaks volumes. The city of Huntington Beach's Voter ID and other elections measures approved by the voters on March 5 to increase voter participation by mandating at least 20 more in-person polling locations and monitoring of ballot drop boxes are not only permissible, the city's authority is provided for them in the California Constitution, Article XI, Section 5(b), for local elections. The people of Huntington Beach have made their voices clear on this issue and the people's decision on the March 5th ballot measures for election integrity is final. To that end, the city will vigorously uphold and defend the will of the people."

Huntington Beach City Councilman Dan Kalmick, however, criticized the measure.

"From the beginning I've opposed this measure," Kalmick said. "Primarily because the data supports that anything that requires folks to do more than what is already under state law stops them from voting. Voting ID is discriminatory."

Requiring an ID at a vote center targets those who want to still cast a ballot in person, Kalmick said.

"It creates a barrier that is unneeded and is a solution in search of a problem," Kalmick said.

"We make it extremely easy to vote" and yet there are scant cases of voting fraud, he added.

The city councilman noted that Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer underscored how safe and secure the county's elections are at a news conference with Weber and Orange County Registrar of Voters Bob Page in February.

"This is a made-up problem," Kalmick said. "But when you have bad ideas you take steps to prevent people from voting."

Nahal Kazemi, an assistant professor at Chapman University's law school, told City News Service the state has a strong case, and the only way the city might prevail is by convincing a judge to bless municipal elections run solely by the city, which would be a practical and financial challenge.

"They would have to train staff to administer an election and to maintain its own election equipment," Kazemi said. "It would need to create polling places, hire volunteers to do this and then to be able to perform an accurate and verifiable vote. ... That would seem to be a sizable undertaking. It would be difficult, expensive and challenging for a city to undertake this."

And that would only apply to city elections involving the election of City Council members or measures, for instance. The county would continue to run elections for state and federal offices, Kazemi said.

So state officials could challenge even that plan by arguing it would confuse voters who might think they need ID to vote in a federal or state election, Kazemi said.

"There's no doubt people would be confused by this," Kazemi said. "You would see the disenfranchising of people because people would not understand this only applies to municipal elections. This will dissuade them from attempting to vote. That's the strongest argument the state has."

Allowing Huntington Beach to do its own thing could lead to a hodge-podge of election policies across the state, Kazemi said, adding it might even dissuade some voters who cast a ballot by mail.

The voters most affected are those who do not have a driver's license because they're disabled, stopped driving because of their age, or are too poor to own a car, Kazemi said. And getting a state-issued ID is difficult for those who are unable to take time off from work to go through the time-consuming process of obtaining one at a DMV, she said.

The number of incidents involving voters pretending to be someone else to cast a ballot is "infinitesimally small," Kazemi said. There have been about a few dozen cases of voters impersonating someone else to cast a ballot nationally over the last 25 years, he said.

He also said it is unlikely undocumented immigrants would cast a ballot illegally because of the high risk of being caught committing a felony that could lead to prison as well as deportation.