California Courier

Huntington Beach Stands Firm in Defense of Voter ID Laws Amid Lawsuit from State

“The people of Huntington Beach have made their voices clear… and the people’s decision on the March 5th ballot measures for election integrity is final,” said City Attorney Michael Gates.

Last month, Huntington Beach voters approved a ballot measure allowing the city to require voter identification to participate in local elections. The proposition, Measure A, proved to be popular with Surf City residents, passing by a decisive seven percentage points

The state government, however, did not take kindly to the news. This week, Attorney General Rob Bonta and Secretary of State Shirley Weber announced that they have filed a lawsuit to challenge Huntington Beach’s voter identification law.

“State election law already contains robust voter ID requirements with strong protections to prevent voter fraud, while ensuring that every eligible voter can cast their ballot without hardship,” Bonta said in a press release. He then went on to repeat claims that voter ID “disproportionately burdens low-income voters, voters of color, young or elderly voters, and people with disabilities.”

This is a talking point that is frequently brought up by opponents to voter ID laws. When Huntington Beach resident Mark Bixby threatened a lawsuit against the city in a preemptive bid to stop the measure from appearing on voters’ ballots, he echoed claims that “it’s designed to discourage minorities from voting.” A Superior Court Judge threw out Bixby’s lawsuit, asserting that the measure’s legality could only be considered if it passed and became law.

“This runs counter to the general rule counseling against pre-election review of the contents of the ballot,” wrote Superior Court Judge Nick Dourbetas. “If this measure were to pass, and if its implementation raises an issue of constitutionality, at that point, it may be appropriate for judicial review.”

The state’s lawsuit may face a similar challenge: their argument hinges on the oft-repeated claim that requiring ID to vote disenfranchises minority groups. But no California city has held a municipal election with such requirements in place—Huntington Beach would be the first—and until such an election is held and their argument can be substantiated with evidence, it remains an unproven, speculative, and premature claim.

“Another way to tell that opponents have nothing is all the equivocation they display,” wrote then-Mayor Tony Strickland and Mayor Pro Tempore Gracey Van Der Mark in their Rebuttal to Argument Against Measure A. “‘Implied,’ ‘may have to,’ ‘could become,’ ‘could be,’ ‘potential,’ ‘could compromise.’ These are all just ways of avoiding making any concrete arguments against Voter ID.”

The response from Huntington Beach City Attorney Michael Gates has been clear: the city won’t kowtow to the state.

“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,” said City Attorney Michael Gates in a statement. “To that end, the City will vigorously uphold and defend the will of the people.”

This is far from the first time that Huntington Beach and the state government have clashed. Last year, Bonta sued the city over its refusal to comply with forced housing construction. Both cases will have interesting implications for two of California’s most contested political topics: electoral integrity and, more broadly, the ongoing battle between cities and the state government over local control. 

“The right to freely cast your vote is the foundation of our democracy,” said Bonta regarding the Measure A lawsuit. “The California Department of Justice stands ready to defend the voting rights that make our democracy strong.”

Ironically, for all his pontificating about democracy, Bonta’s lawsuit is an attempt to overthrow the result of a democratic election. And for this reason, the lawsuit is less about voter ID itself and more about who is allowed to wield political power in California—local voters or the State Legislature—and whose vision for democracy will prevail.

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