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Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

California bill targeting voter ID heads to Senate floor

The bill is in response to a ballot measure Huntington Beach residents passed on March 5, which could require people to show voter ID in municipal elections.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) — A California bill that would prohibit cities from imposing voter ID requirements is headed to the floor of the state Senate after a Wednesday committee hearing.

Senate Bill 1174, written by state Senator Dave Min, an Irvine Democrat, is a response to a Huntington Beach ballot measure that could require voter ID at its municipal elections. Railing against that measure, Min said his bill would remove any ambiguity that a charter city could impose such a requirement.

On the March 5 ballot, the measure passed by 32,892 to 28,701 votes, or 53.4% to 46.6%. California officials sued Huntington Beach last month in Orange County in response.

“To me, the principle is simple,” Min told the Senate Local Government Committee on Wednesday.

According to Min, if evidence of voter fraud were to exist, officials should take action. However, there is no evidence, and it’s the state’s responsibility — not that of individual cities — to dictate election law.

Min said he’s asked Huntington Beach council members for evidence of election fraud and has seen none.

Charter cities operate under their own charter and have latitude in conducting municipal affairs, though they must abide by state law. California’s constitution doesn’t define “municipal affairs,” creating ambiguity.

Brittany Stonesifer of the American Civil Liberties Union called instances of voter fraud “exceedingly rare.” Min, agreeing, pointed to Orange County District Attorney Spitzer, who has said his office investigates 10 to 15 reports of possible voter fraud after each election. Most reports claim someone voted more than once, however, Spitzer said he’s never seen enough evidence to support such a claim.

Critics of voter ID laws say they burden voters, especially people of color. 

Additionally, the California Secretary of State’s Office and county elections offices already ensure the integrity of elections.

“Voter rights and election integrity are matters of state concern,” Stonesifer said.

Joey Flegel-Mishlove of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees called California a leader in conducting fair and just elections and said voter ID laws aren’t justified by voter fraud claims.

State Senator Kelly Seyarto, a Murrieta Republican and committee member, questioned what disenfranchisement was occurring by requiring someone to show identification.

“I have to show [ID] when I go to BevMo!” he said. “What’s the disenfranchisement?

“We use IDs for everything,” he added.

Seyarto said he doesn’t give credence to claims of voter fraud. Instead, he wants people to have confidence in their elections.

State Senator Brian Dahle, a Bieber Republican and committee member, asked if voter fraud has occurred if a citizen of another country crosses the border, registers to vote and then votes. Stonesifer called his example inept, as someone must give a Social Security number or show a driver’s license or state ID when they register to vote.

No public attendee at the hearing spoke in opposition to the bill.

State Senator Scott Wiener, a San Francisco Democrat and committee member, called Huntington Beach “a bad-actor city.” Some of its leaders have pushed back on state housing requirements, with Mayor Gracey Van Der Mark calling it overreach.

“(Senator) Min's proposed law to outlaw voter ID is proof that the city's charter amendment for voter ID is legal,” Van Der Mark said in a Wednesday email. “Notwithstanding, the city has a constitutional right under … the California Constitution to adopt this voter ID requirement. The people of Huntington Beach have spoken and voter ID is the law of the land in our city.”

Not all city leaders support its opposition to the state. Contacted by Courthouse News, Huntington Beach Councilmember Dan Kalmick said he watched the committee hearing remotely. He decried his city’s lawsuit with the state over the housing law, and called Min’s bill a method of avoiding future wasted taxpayer dollars.

Additionally, Kalmick contended that in order to implement its recently passed voter ID measure, the city must amend its charter to avoid holding municipal elections on the same day as state elections.

“I brought this up during the discussion of the amendment last year and was ignored,” Kalmick said in an email. “This just shows that no one is serious about implementing voter ID in Huntington Beach and it’s all political theater.”

Categories / Elections, Government, Regional

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