Huntington Beach City Council Members are moving forward with a sweeping list of proposed amendments to the city’s charter that could affect local elections, including requiring voter ID, ballot box monitoring and changing the requirements to run for city clerk.
The final decision will ultimately be made by the voters in March during the state’s primary election, meaning the new rules could apply to the November 2024 elections if approved by voters.
While the precise details for what voters will be approving or denying remain unclear, the final proposals have to be submitted to the OC Registrar of Voters by December 8 if city leaders want to put them on the March ballot.
The recommendations were put forward by Mayor Tony Strickland and Councilmembers Gracey Van Der Mark and Pat Burns, all members of the council’s Republican majority who met as the Charter Review Ad Hoc Committee to suggest changes to the charter.
To review all the suggested changes, click here.
The most controversial proposals were to implement voter ID requirements at the polls and setting up cameras to monitor ballot dropboxes.
Strickland and the council’s conservative majority said the move would help restore “faith,” in the election system, and that it should be allowed given how other cities in Northern California have changed their local election requirements to allow 16 year olds to vote in local races.
“I authored a bill every year when I was in Sacramento on voter ID, I wanted to see if it was feasible to do voter ID in our municipal elections,” Strickland said. “Our democracy only works if people believe in the results of the election. There have been questions in this county about some voter fraud … I believe voter ID helps prevent fraud.”
But the idea caught a lot of flak from public speakers and the council’s Democrat minority, who questioned why it was necessary to beef up requirements to vote when there’s no evidence of widespread voter fraud.
“I’m just trying to figure out what we’re trying to solve here,” said Councilman Dan Kalmick. “As far as I know, Orange county is ISO certified, the greatest registrar … we have no voter fraud.”
“It’s just to bring confidence back to the vote,” said Councilman Pat Burns.
“Not a single person sent me an email saying they question if their vote was counted,” Kalmick said.
Councilman Casey McKeon argued that “everyone I talk to” had asked that question.
“This is to give faith in our elections,” McKeon said. “It’s not hard to understand.”
The city council ultimately approved the issue on a 4-3 vote.
State Senator Dave Min also wrote a letter opposing the shift to voter ID and ballot box monitoring, which he also forwarded to CA Attorney General Rob Bonta and the leaders of the legislature’s elections committees.
“Why is this measure needed?” Min asked. “What credible evidence has there been that Huntington Beach municipal elections have recently, or ever, experienced fraud or other election integrity issues?”
The 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.
City attorney Michael Gates clarified the city would continue to use the state’s election code, just with several enhancements.
“This is very early on in the process,” Gates said. “We’re going to come back with red lines and very specific proposals.”
The city would “maintain local control over voter ID provisions for resident verification,” with voters potentially having to provide a valid government issued ID.
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 monitoring of ballot dropboxes, which Councilman Pat Burns suggested be done with a camera.
Voters would still have the power to fill out and turn in mail in ballots, which would not be subject to the proposed voter ID rules.
The council also suggested a proposal that would remove one of the requirements for running for city clerk, only requiring that someone have a bachelor’s degree to hold the office.
Previously, you had to hold a degree in business administration or something related, and become a certified clerk.
Strickland said “related” was subjective, but that anyone who ran for the office would still have to get a clerk license.
“The other qualifications, like you have to have a clerk license within three years, that remains, we’re not getting rid of all the additional requirements,” Strickland said. “We’re keeping the requirements you have to have a clerk certification within three years.”
City Clerk Robin Estanislau, who has said she’s not running again for office when her term is up in 2024, came out against the proposed changes, claiming the council was trying to set it up so that City Attorney Michael Gates’ wife could run for the position.
“I’m confident our voting public understand misuse of power when they see it,” Estanislau said.
After her comments, Gates said his wife had not decided yet if she was going to run, and chastised her for “outing,” his wife before the decision was made.
“I went to Robin as a courtesy to let you know my wife is considering running. I took you aside and did it privately,” Gates said. “I find it really discouraging, frankly Robin, that our top elections official would come to the podium and shame and out somebody, and yes it’s my wife, but out her when she hasn’t even decided to run.”
The council voted 4-3 to move forward with changing the requirements to run for city clerk.
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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