Huntington Beach resident files suit in attempt to stop possible Voter ID requirement
Plenty of people have questioned a proposed Huntington Beach charter amendment that will be on March’s primary ballot that would require voters to show identification.
One Surf City resident has now taken it to court.
Mark Bixby filed in Orange County Superior Court last week challenging the potential amendment, which he says would violate both the California Constitution’s right to vote and the California Elections Code.
Bixby, a former Huntington Beach planning commissioner, publishes the Surf City Sentinel.
“Imposing a Voter ID requirement in city elections is not just a terrible idea that will undermine confidence in local elections, but is a clear and blatant violation of the state constitution, the state elections code and basic fundamental rights,” Bixby said in a statement. “The City Council has ignored state officials, public interest groups and its own residents in proposing this measure. What is worse is that there is no basis for this requirement. Despite claims by election deniers, there has been no documented voter fraud in Huntington Beach, and yet the City Council majority has continued to lie to the public about voter fraud and come up with illegal schemes to suppress the vote.”
The city’s charter has not been changed since 2010. The council held four special meetings regarding charter amendments this fall and came up with three possible amendments that will be decided by the city’s voters in March.
Charter Amendment Measure 1 states that Huntington Beach may require voter identification for elections, provide more in-person voting locations and monitor ballot drop boxes for municipal elections beginning in 2026.
The crux of Bixby’s petition for writ of mandate against Huntington Beach City Clerk Robin Estanislau and Orange County Registrar of Voters Bob Page, filed on Nov. 22, is that requiring voter IDs violates state law and exceeds the city’s authority, while also resulting in discrimination against senior citizens, voters with disabilities and minorities.
In late September, state Atty. General Rob Bonta and Secretary of State Shirley Weber sent a letter to the City Council warning against the proposed voting changes.
“Everybody has warned the City Council that it can’t violate the voting rights of the people of the state of California,” said Bixby’s attorney, Lee Fink, in an interview Tuesday. “It is not a municipal affair ... and the city has just plunged ahead with it. I assume that they’ve been expecting to litigate this, and so now it’s upon them.”
The formal argument in favor of Charter Amendment Measure 1, written by Mayor Tony Strickland and Mayor Pro Tem Gracey Van Der Mark, states exactly the opposite. It says that the state’s constitution gives charter cities like Huntington Beach the power to govern their own local elections.
“It is crucial for our democracy that voters have faith in our election results,” the argument reads. “That trust in the outcome of elections comes into question when we can’t always be certain who is voting.”
Thirty-six states request or require voters to show identification at the polls, but California is not one of them.
“What we have, despite all sorts of imagined harms, is that there’s never been any serious issue of in-person voter impersonation that voter ID would solve,” Fink said. “It’s all ginned up outrage that’s false.”
Bixby’s suit actually seeks to throw out the second proposed charter amendment, regarding which flags can fly on city property. Fink said the full language of the two amendments themselves was not posted for public examination until Nov. 21, the second-to-last business day of the public examination period required by statute, due to a claimed clerical error.
Huntington Beach City Atty. Michael Gates said Tuesday that he doesn’t believe that would be an issue because the 10-day period could start Nov. 21 and still conclude before the Registrar of Voters deadline.
Gates added that he disagrees with Fink and that cities do have local authority that trumps state regulation. The argument is similar to one he made in a federal housing case, which was dismissed earlier this month, though the City Council voted 4-3 to authorize Gates to appeal to the Ninth Circuit.
“All you have to do is gather information about what other cities are doing for their elections, and you see that so many cities have their own sets of rules,” Gates said. “Having voter ID and requiring voters to show ID, as a proof of residency or proof of being registered to vote, it’s basic and it’s permissible under the law ... There’s a lot of saber-rattling and tough talk out there about how what Huntington Beach is attempting to do is illegal, but nobody has offered any proof under the law that what we’re preparing to do is illegal.”
But Fink said that a voter is clearly defined by state law.
“The city would have to administer an election itself, separately, and you’re talking about having a county and statewide election at the same time,” he said. “It’s a huge cost, and it’s a huge confusion. You’re supposed to vote twice in November? That literally goes against everything we’ve ever been taught about democracy, and yet that’s the system that the city would have to create in order to implement this unlawful concept.”
Fink said that Bixby is seeking an expedited schedule for the current lawsuit.
Fink represented Bixby and former Mayor Connie Boardman when they filed suit in June to stop Surf City from beginning the payment of a multimillion-dollar settlement with Pacific Airshow operator Code Four. That suit was ultimately unsuccessful.
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