Huntington Beach residents could see some big shifts to their local elections as the council’s Republican majority is proposing to ask voters to approve major shifts on how ballots are collected and reviewed.
If approved by the city council, voters will decide in the March primary election on whether or not to implement voter ID laws and possibly having city staff or volunteers monitor ballot drop boxes.
The recommendations were put forward by Mayor Tony Strickland and Councilmembers Gracey Van Der Mark and Pat Burns, who met behind closed doors as the Charter Review Ad Hoc Committee with city attorney Michael Gates to discuss a series of reviews to the city charter over the last two months.
In an interview on Thursday afternoon, Strickland said new rules like requiring a valid ID to vote in person would help strengthen faith in the integrity of local elections, and that if San Francisco could lower the voting age for local elections, Surf City should be able to do this.
“Our democracy does not work if people do not have faith in the election results,” Strickland said. “Anytime you can put safeguards in I think it’s important to do so people have faith in our election outcomes.”
Councilwoman Rhonda Bolton, an attorney and frequent opponent of the majority, laughed when asked about the issue on Friday morning.
“That was my reaction – laughter,” she said. “Things have gotten so ridiculous that it’s becoming apparent these are desperate attempts for attention, legal attention.”
“There’s no explanation for all the bizarre stuff that’s come out of the city of Huntington Beach.”
Mike Moodian, a public policy professor at Chapman University, and Stephen Stambough, a political science professor at CSU Fullerton, both said the changes to voting come amid a nationwide push by the Republican Party to crack down on the perceived issue of voter fraud after the 2020 election, which former President Donald Trump claims was rigged against him.
“It sounds like a continuation of some of the stuff from 2020, with stories or fears of ballot fraud,” Stambough said in a Friday morning interview. “It seems like a ripple effect.”
But the push comes as there is no evidence of widespread fraud in the 2020 election.
“There has been no evidence of widespread voter fraud,” Moodian said. “In the United States, we certainly have our faults, but there is integrity in the election system.”
Currently, the city has no special rules on elections, with the municipal code listing that they follow the state’s guidelines.
“All elections shall be held in accordance with the provisions of the Elections Code of the State of California … so far as the same are not in conflict with this Charter,” states the charter.
To read the full section, click here.
But the council’s proposal would “remove exclusive reliance on State Elections Code for all aspects of elections,” according to the committee’s suggestions that were submitted to the city council.
To review all the suggested changes, click here.
The city would also “maintain local control over voter ID provisions for resident verification,” but it remains unclear what residents would have to do to prove their ability to vote.
The new code would also require at least 12 polling places throughout the city for voters who wish to come in person, and would also require someone to monitor ballot drop boxes, with it remaining unclear whether the monitoring would come from city employees or volunteers.
It remains unclear how any of those recommendations would be implemented, with City Attorney Michael Gates saying a more complete proposal would come back to the city council in either September or October in a Thursday morning interview.
“These are just ideas from the ad hoc committee and they’re going to talk about them at the council meeting,” Gates said. “They may get nixed or modified.”
Strickland said the requirements on voter ID laws would likely not apply to mail-in ballots, which every registered voter in California receives by default, and would be focused on those choosing to vote in person.
“You’d have to show an ID when you show up to vote in the polls,” Strickland said. “These are just some of the ideas, and I think the city attorney is starting to work on some of those.”
Gates would be responsible for writing any charter changes approved by the city council, and said that while they would likely rely on the state’s elections rules, they’d add the suggestions as specific carve outs for city elections.
The new rules on voter ID could also see the city end up in court with the state again as they continue to wrestle with state leaders over mandated housing development laws.
“The state might try to step in on that, because expanding rights is one thing but restricting rights is another,” Stambough said. “If they try to put more stringent requirements on voter ID, the state could say no.”
The California Attorney General’s office did not return a request for comment on Friday morning.
Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @NBiesiada.
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