Huntington Beach and Santa Ana elected officials are teeing up two tough debates on voting in Orange County this week around voter ID cards and non-citizen voting.
Each city is considering asking their respective city voters if they want to overhaul the way people vote, as well as who can vote.
Surf City’s Republican city council majority is slated to consider a voter ID proposal Tuesday night, while Santa Ana’s Democratic city council majority is expected to consider a ballot proposal that would allow non-citizens to vote on the same night.
Click here to watch the 6 p.m. Huntington Beach City Council meeting.
Click here to watch the 5:30 p.m. Santa Ana City Council meeting.
Both proposals have seen strong opposition from their respective city council minority factions.
In Santa Ana, officials like Councilman Phil Bacerra said the noncitizen voting proposal could impact people’s immigration status, adding it’s being used as a political tool. Yet supporters say noncitizens pay taxes and should be able to participate in local democracy.
Minority faction council members in Surf City say the voter ID proposal could jeopardize the city’s ability to hold elections and open the city up to lawsuits. But majority members say the move adds another layer of trust in the election system.
HB Faces Legal Threat Over Voter ID Proposal
California Attorney General Rob Bonta has already written a letter to Huntington Beach city leaders informing them they will be sued by the state if they move forward.
“The City’s proposal to require voter identification at the polls in municipal elections conflicts with state law and would only serve to suppress voter participation without providing any discernible local benefit,” Bonta and CA Secretary of State Shirley Weber told city council members in a Sept. 28 letter.
Bonta’s threat hasn’t done much to dissuade council members, who’ve repeatedly affirmed their commitment to the voter ID proposal at over half a dozen city council meetings, saying it’ll help alleviate concerns about voter fraud.
At a council meeting last month, City Attorney Michael Gates also called the letter from Bonta “specious” and said the legal threat likely wouldn’t hold up in court.
The voter ID rules would only apply to in-person voting and not the mail-in ballots that all registered voters in California receive each election.
While other countries such as France and Mexico have voter ID laws, their use in the United States has always been questioned, with opponents saying it drives down the county’s already low voter turnout, disenfranchises the poor and that the system is already secure.
“You are making it more difficult for people without resources to vote,” said Councilman Dan Kalmick at the council’s discussion on Sept. 21.
Councilwoman Gracey Van Der Mark said that’s not accurate, and said that despite not being wealthy as a child her family still voted.
“We’re not incapable because we’re poor. We can think and can actually get things done,” Van Der Mark said.
The council majority is expected to approve the proposed voter ID ballot measure, which would also come with extra monitoring of ballot boxes for the city and additional voting locations. If approved, it would land on the March 2024 primary ballot.
If voters adopt the measure, it remains unclear whether or not the Orange County Registrar of Voters would implement the new requirements for the city or if the city would have to run its own elections – a move that would cost millions more each election cycle.
Santa Ana’s Noncitizen Voting Proposal
Home to a large immigrant population, the Latino majority working class City of Santa Ana could become the first municipality in Orange County to allow noncitizen voting – if voters allow it.
Santa Ana Councilman Bacerra said the measure could impact residents trying to become U.S. citizens because it might conflict with federal law.
At the Sept. 19 council meeting, Bacerra said it could “cause long term harm on folks who are trying to become United States citizens. So it’s unfortunate that that’s forsaken to score political points.”
But city council majority members like Councilman Johnathan Hernandez said noncitizens should get a say in local elections since they pay taxes.
“Santa Ana is a Latino majority city,” Hernandez said at the Sept. 19 meeting. “Those residents own property, they own mobile homes, they own land … they make up a very large bracket of people who pay taxes.”
The city is home to over 308,000 residents and more than 166,000 of them are eligible to vote, according to the 2022 American Community Survey from the U.S. Census Bureau.
Nearly 69,000 of the city’s residents are noncitizens, according to the data.
City Attorney Sonia Carvalho raised concerns over exactly how the measure could work and who it could apply to: permanent resident noncitizens or all noncitizens, including undocumented immigrants.
Councilwoman Thai Viet Phan said it should simply be a November 2024 ballot question asking city voters if the city should move to allow some form of noncitizen voting.
“Do the voters of Santa Ana want to expand voting rights to noncitizens? Once they tell us what they want then this city council and this staff can begin to research and implement that. But we need that directive from the people of Santa Ana,” Phan said at the Sept. 19 meeting.
Mayor Valerie Amezcua criticized the move, saying it’s driven by the upcoming police union-backed recall election of Councilwoman Jessie Lopez slated for next month.
“We’re playing politics because there’s a recall happening.”
Spencer Custodio is the civic editor. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @SpencerCustodio.
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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