State is ‘declaring war’ on Huntington Beach residents, mayor says of voter ID lawsuit

Huntington Beach Mayor Gracey Van Der Mark speaks at the podium.
Huntington Beach Mayor Gracey Van Der Mark speaks about a state lawsuit challenging a new ordinance that allows the city to require voter ID in local elections. Standing behind her, from left, are Councilman Tony Strickland, City Atty. Michael Gates and Councilman Pat Burns.
(Eric Licas)
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Huntington Beach city officials rallied Thursday in defiance of a state lawsuit challenging a recently passed measure that would allow the city to require voters to present identification in order to cast a ballot and issued a “call to action” during a news conference in front of City Hall.

Just over 53% of the voters who participated in the March election approved Measure A, a series of amendments to the city’s charter that would authorize city officials to monitor ballot boxes and ask voters for identification. In September, California Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta issued a warning claiming the measure violates state law, and on Monday his office filed a lawsuit alleging the new voter ID rules “would only serve to suppress voter participation without providing any discernible local benefit.”

Supporters of Measure A applaud City Atty. Michael Gates' plans to fight a state-filed lawsuit.
Supporters of Measure A, a recently passed charter amendment that would allow the city to require ID to vote in Huntington Beach elections, clap as City Atty. Michael Gates announces plans to fight a state-filed lawsuit challenging the new ordinance.
(Eric Licas)

Supporters of the measure say it is needed to ensure the integrity of local politics. About two dozen of them joined Mayor Gracey Van Der Mark, City Atty. Michael Gates and Councilmen Tony Strickland and Pat Burns at a news conference Thursday. Many applauded as the four of them pledged to defend Measure A and combat what the mayor described as “tyranny” from state lawmakers.

“When the state announces a lawsuit like this over a measure adopted by the people of the city, the state is declaring war on the people of the city,” Van Der Mark said.

“I would like to make this a call to action,” she added. “I’d like to call for other cities who feel that they are being bullied by Sacramento to please join us.”

Van Der Mark, who identified herself as being of Mexican descent during the conference, called the notion that possessing ID would be a barrier to people of color “insulting.” She went on to note that other cities and countries require voters to show identification.

During the news conference, Gates argued Measure A is backed by a section of the California Constitution that gives cities authority over “municipal affairs.” He pointed to a 2020 decision in a separate case filed by the city of Redondo Beach against the state, in which California’s 2nd District Court of Appeal ruled that elections are municipal affairs.

“We will not be bullied or intimidated while the attorney general takes to the podium at press conferences to fight policy battles in a public forum,” Gates said.

Bonta’s suit claims the voter ID rule defies the oversight of state and county election officials, potentially sowing confusion and other barriers making it harder for people to vote. State officials have also said robust security measures are already in place at the polls, and ballot boxes are already monitored by either video surveillance or internal cameras. Opponents of voter ID laws say instances of fraud in elections are extremely rare.

Huntington Beach resident Becky Ettinger was at the news conference and said she voted in favor of Measure A. She said she did not believe existing election safeguards were sufficient.

“How do they know this is me?” Ettinger said. “This could be anybody. So I’m completely in favor of it, and I think our nation needs to go that way.”

Opponents of voter ID laws at an event held by Huntington Beach City Atty. Michael Gates and Mayor Gracey Van Der Mark.
A handful of demonstrators opposed to voter ID laws stand at the periphery of a news conference in support of Measure A held by City Atty. Michael Gates, Mayor Gracey Van Der Mark and conservative members of the City Council on Thursday.
(Eric Licas)

About a dozen opponents of Measure A stood at the periphery of Thursday’s news conference holding signs and occasionally speaking out during the event. Huntington Beach Councilwoman Natalie Moser was also present, but not among the featured speakers.

She said she was not notified of the news conference until a public press release had been issued, and the state’s most recent lawsuit against Huntington Beach has not been brought up during any official City Council discussions.

“This is not a city event,” Moser said. “This is a campaign event.”

Moser pointed out that Measure A did not include any specific instructions on how to implement voter ID checks and ballot monitoring. However, early analysis suggests that doing so would cost the city a minimum of $1.5 million. Meanwhile, the city is still in the middle of sorting out its budget and also falling behind on critical infrastructure projects, Moser said.

Gates said his office is doing all the work of challenging numerous lawsuits from the state in-house, at minimum cost to taxpayers. Moser said the budget for the city attorney’s office has grown by about $1 million over the past year.

“We are picking fights with the state, causing chaos, and we are not managing our home,” Moser said.

Eric Licas is a contributor to the Daily Pilot.