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California sues Huntington Beach over ‘blatantly and flatly illegal’ voter ID law

Nov. 2022 photo of a couple casting their ballot at Huntington Beach City Hall.
Nov. 2022 photo of a couple casting their ballot at Huntington Beach City Hall.
(Scott Smeltzer/Daily Pilot)
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California has sued Huntington Beach, alleging that the city’s new law requiring voters to show photo identification is a violation of state law.

The 320-page lawsuit, filed Monday in Orange County Superior Court, accuses Huntington Beach of violating California’s Constitution and the state election code over a new charter amendment that would require voters to show photo identification in local elections starting in 2026.

Huntington Beach has argued that the city charter grants local officials the authority to handle municipal issues, including local elections. In addition to the photo identification requirement, the amendment requires that Huntington Beach provide 20 in-person polling places and monitor ballot drop boxes.

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Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta said Monday that Huntington Beach’s charter does not exempt the city from following state laws that govern voter registration and election integrity. The photo identification requirement “is not only misguided — it is blatantly and flatly illegal,” Bonta said at a news conference in downtown Los Angeles.

“They have greatly overstated the authority they think they have,” said Bonta, a Democrat. “They have willfully violated the law, they have brazenly violated the law. ... They know exactly what they are doing, and they are doing it anyway.”

Voters in Huntington Beach approved the law by passing Measure A on the March 5 ballot, with 53.4% support. Michael Gates, Huntington Beach’s city attorney, said in a statement that “the people of Huntington Beach have made their voices clear on this issue.”

“The city will vigorously uphold and defend the will of the people,” Gates said.

Bonta’s lawsuit is the latest clash between California and Huntington Beach, which has thrust itself into the crosshairs of state lawmakers and the nation’s culture wars since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Over the last four years, officials in the conservative beach town have declared it a “no mask and no vaccine-mandate” city, sued the state over zoning requirements to add housing and a “sanctuary city” immigration law, created a panel to screen children’s books in the city library for sexual content and approved the voter ID measure for the March ballot despite threats of a lawsuit.

Since their 2022 election, a conservative majority on the Huntington Beach City Council has pursued Pride flag bans, book bans and voter ID requirements. Some residents wonder what all that has to do with running a city.

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After the Huntington Beach City Council began discussing the voter ID measure last fall, Bonta and Secretary of State Shirley N. Weber, California’s top election official, warned in a letter to city officials that the measure was illegal and could prompt a lawsuit.

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California law requires voters to verify their identities when they register to vote and imposes criminal penalties for fraudulent registration, Bonta and Weber wrote. The state does not require photo identification at the polls but does require that voters provide their names and addresses.

The Huntington Beach City Council voted 4 to 3 in October to place the voter ID law on the March ballot.

The person Trump should choose is on no one’s radar except mine. It’s such a perfect choice that I’m loath to even write out my thoughts lest they manifest like a political version of Beetlejuice.

March 21, 2024

Councilmembers Tony Strickland and Gracey Van Der Mark, who backed the measure, wrote in their ballot argument that “extreme policies” allowing noncitizens to vote “have been spreading” and that the measure would “forever protect Huntington Beach’s elections.”

Three council members who opposed the measure said that the city’s elections, overseen by the Orange County Registrar of Voters, are secure and that Huntington Beach was not prepared to oversee its own elections.

Weber, a Democrat, said Monday that her office investigates claims of voter fraud and has “not found it to be true that California, nor any other state, suffers from a tremendous amount of fraud.”

The voter ID measure “is really a solution looking for a problem,” Weber said.

A Huntington Beach resident sued in November to block the voter ID measure. The ACLU of Southern California and Disability Rights California filed briefs in support of the lawsuit, arguing that voter ID laws impose severe burdens on Black, Latino and low-income voters.

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Orange County Superior Court judge Nick Dourbetas declined to stop the measure from appearing on the ballot but wrote in his December ruling that if the measure passed “and if its implementation raises an issue of constitutionality, at that point, it may be appropriate for judicial review.”

Bonta warned Huntington Beach last fall that another facet of the charter amendment — monitoring ballot drop boxes — could also violate state law.

The state’s lawsuit does not mention drop boxes. Bonta said state officials will be watching how the Huntington Beach law is implemented to ensure it does not run afoul of a prohibition on taking photos, videos or otherwise recording voters at polling places or ballot drop boxes “with the intent of dissuading another person from voting.”

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