Conservatives have called on Voter ID laws to “stop the steal,” but the city of Huntington Beach’s proposal to require voters to identify themselves before casting a ballot violates California state law, according to two high-ranking state officials.
California Secretary of State Shirley Weber and California Attorney General Rob Bonta today sent a letter to the city of Huntington Beach warning that the city’s proposal to require voter identification at the polls in municipal elections directly conflicts with state law and is preempted.
On Oct. 5, the city council is set to decide whether to put this proposal before the voters in March 2024. In the letter, Bonta and Weber urged the city to drop the proposal and the expressed grave concerns that it would only serve to suppress voter participation without providing any discernible local benefit.
“We cannot turn back the clock on voting rights,” Weber said. “Voter ID requirements at the polls have historically been used to turn eligible voters away from exercising the franchise, especially low-income voters and voters of color. Not only is the action unlawful, it is also unnecessary because California already has guardrails in place for establishing both eligibility of each voter and for confirming their identity when returning their ballot.”
“The right to freely cast your vote is the foundation of our democracy,” Bonta said. “State elections laws are in place to ensure the fundamental right to vote without imposing unnecessary obstacles that can reduce voter participation or disproportionately burden low-income voters, racial and ethnic minorities, the elderly, or people with disabilities. Huntington Beach’s proposed amendment violates state law and would impose additional barriers to voting. If the city moves forward and places it on the ballot, we stand ready to take appropriate action to ensure that voters’ rights are protected.”
In the letter, the attorney general and secretary of state explain that, under state law, people registering to vote must provide identifying information under penalty of perjury and county and state elections officials are responsible for validating that information. Those who register to vote knowing that they are ineligible to do so are subject to criminal penalties. At the polls, voters are only required to provide their name and address; no further identification is required. A person’s eligibility to vote can only be challenged by election workers on narrow grounds, and only where there is probable cause to make a challenge. In this way, state law guards the ballot box against ineligible and/or fraudulent voters while at the same time simplifying and facilitating the process of voting so as to avoid suppressing turnout and disenfranchising qualified voters. It also makes clear that the job of local elections officials is to supervise voting at the polls, not to take over voter-eligibility functions performed by the county registrar and the Secretary of State.
In violation of this legal framework, Huntington Beach’s voter ID proposal would place the burden on the voter to establish their identity and right to vote with some form of identification at the time they cast their ballot. By requiring additional documentation to establish a voter’s identity and eligibility to vote at the time of voting, Huntington Beach’s proposal conflicts with state law and may constitute “mass, indiscriminate and groundless challenging of voters,” in violation of Elections Code section 18543. The attorney general and the secretary of state also point out that the city has not identified any basis for its voter ID proposal, much less a basis supported by uniquely local concerns.
The city is also considering amending its charter to require that city officials “monitor ballot drop boxes located within the city.” The attorney general and the secretary explain in their letter that state law already provides for video monitoring of ballot drop boxes by county elections officials. The Elections Code also prohibits anyone, with the intent of dissuading another person from voting, from video recording a voter within 100 feet of a polling place or other outdoor site at which a voter may cast a drop off ballot.
At present, no details about how the city’s proposal would be implemented have been made available, and thus it is unclear whether or how the proposal might conflict with state law.
The attorney general and secretary of state explain that if the city moves forward with this proposed charter amendment, they stand ready act to ensure it is not implemented in a way that interferes with the right to vote or otherwise conflicts with state law.
A copy of the letter is available here