Voters fill out their ballots at a vote center at the Huntington Beach Central Library in Huntington Beach on March 5, 2024. Photo by Lauren Justice for CalMatters

California is taking Huntington Beach to court again — this time over a change to its city charter adopted last month by local voters that would allow the city to require voter identification in municipal elections.

Conservative city officials in Huntington Beach pushed for voter ID, a popular policy in Republican states, to address concerns from constituents about election integrity that have increasingly cropped up in the wake of former President Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was stolen.

But Attorney General Rob Bonta and Secretary of State Shirley Weber announced today that they would seek to invalidate the new law for interfering with state protections of voting rights. The officials, both Democrats, argue that Huntington Beach’s ID requirement could disenfranchise voters and is unnecessary because there is not widespread fraud in California elections.

“It really is a solution looking for a problem, because we have not found this problem,” Weber said at a press conference. “We have worked very hard to make sure that every eligible Californian knows that they have the right to vote.”

The lawsuit, filed in Orange County Superior Court, contends that elections are an issue of statewide importance governed by statewide rules and that cities do not have authority to implement additional regulations that could interfere with a voter’s ability to cast a ballot.

Bonta said that Californians must already present identification and swear under penalty of perjury when they register to vote, allowing for a more expedited voting process. He said Huntington Beach had not provided a compelling reason for requiring voter ID at the polls.

“We believe that the position of the city of Huntington Beach is not only misguided, it is blatantly and flatly illegal,” Bonta said.

Huntington Beach City Attorney Michael Gates said the law — which takes effect in 2026, and also authorizes the city to add more in-person voting locations and monitor ballot drop-boxes — is intended to increase participation in elections.

“The people of Huntington Beach have made their voices clear on this issue and the people’s decision on the March 5th ballot measures for election integrity is final,” he said in a statement. “To that end, the City will vigorously uphold and defend the will of the people.”

Bonta and Weber already warned Huntington Beach last fall that its voter identification proposal would violate a provision in California’s election code that prohibits “mass, indiscriminate, and groundless challenging of voters solely for the purpose of preventing voters from voting.”

City officials put the measure on the ballot anyway and it passed by 7 percentage points in the March primary. The Secretary of State’s office finally certified those results on Friday.

State Sen. Dave Min, an Irvine Democrat who represents Huntington Beach in the Legislature and is running for Congress, has separately introduced Senate Bill 1174, which would prevent local governments from implementing voter ID requirements, a direct challenge to the city.

In his statement, Gates pointed to the bill as further evidence that Huntington Beach currently has legal authority to require voter ID in elections.

This state’s lawsuit follows another long-running legal saga with Huntington Beach over housing. California has sued the city twice in the past five years for not meeting its obligations to plan for more housing, while Huntington Beach countersued last year, though that case was tossed in November.

The city in recent years has become a symbol of resistance against liberal California, with a newly-elected conservative city council majority jumping into battles over issues such as vaccine mandates, Pride flags and library books.

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