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A California city has a voter ID law on the ballot. It’s MAGA hogwash | Opinion

Huntington Beach — AKA Surf City USA — is making waves. But not in a good way.

The Southern California city famous for its surf culture is asking voters to approve a law that would permit poll workers to ask voters to show an ID.

It’s another attempt to undermine confidence in our elections by falsely implying that voter fraud is rampant in California, even in conservative-leaning Orange County.

There are a couple of big problems with the proposal on the March 5 ballot.

For one, California election law forbids requiring voters to show identification, except under extremely limited circumstances involving first-time voters.

California Attorney General Rob Bonta and Secretary of State Shirley Weber wrote to city officials last fall, warning that the proposal “squarely conflicts with state law.”

“Accordingly, we respectfully urge you to reject the voter ID proposal currently under consideration. If necessary, our offices stand ready to take appropriate action to ensure that state law is upheld and voters’ rights are protected,” they wrote in a letter the city has basically ignored.

Huntington Beach claims the voter ID law would only apply to municipal elections.

State officials aren’t buying that, since most elections are consolidated, meaning that local, state and national elections are combined on one ballot. Good point.

What about vote-by-mail?

Here’s the second problem: Given the growing popularity of voting by mail, relatively few voters are even going to the polls. In the 2022 general election, for example, only 17% of Orange County ballots were cast in person.

How does Huntington Beach plan to check the IDs of voters using mail-in ballots?

Will the city station people at post offices and demand that voters show their ID before they drop their ballot in the mail slot?

Obviously, the law as currently written will apply only to in-person voters.

But could this be just a first step? Is it only a matter of time before the city tries to phase out mail-in voting, which MAGA conservatives claim is “rife with fraud.”

Unanswered questions

Another issue: The measure is vague about how the law would be enforced.

An analysis by the Huntington Beach city attorney points out that it would “authorize but not require” the city to verify voter identity.

Does that mean there is an element of discretion? Could poll workers “card” only certain voters based on their looks or their last name, perhaps?

Nor does the measure specify the type of ID that’s acceptable. Would it have to be a photo ID? Would a utility bill suffice? How about a school ID?

Another provision included in the ballot measure — allowing the city to “monitor” ballot drop-boxes — is also frustratingly devoid of specific detail.

That, too, could get the city in trouble with the state.

“Until the City provides further details about how this proposal would be implemented, it is not clear that the City even has the authority to enact such a measure,” the Bonta-Weber letter says.

Why it matters

This is not the first time a local agency in California has tried to override state election law. It won’t be the last, either, which is why what’s happening in Huntington Beach is important to us all.

If one local government successfully implements a voter ID law, other cities and counties will undoubtedly want to follow, if for no other reason than to appease constituents who still insist that the 2020 election was “stolen.” There is no shortage of elected officials who would jump at the chance to enact “reform” measures, such as limiting vote-by-mail, doing away with early voting, and even going back to hand-counting ballots.

Last year, in fact, Sutter County went so far as to cancel its contract with Dominion Voting Systems. It planned to switch to manually counting ballots until the state passed a law that prohibits hand-counting except in extremely limited circumstances.

The Huntington Beach measure is nothing more than window dressing — an attempt by the City Council’s conservative majority to flex its political muscle by “fighting” election fraud, when no such fraud exists.

As Bonta and Weber point out in their letter, “the City has not identified any basis for its voter ID proposal, much less a basis supported by uniquely local concerns.”

The citizens of Huntington Beach should confront this measure with a wave of rejection.

This editorial represents the views of the opinion editorial boards at The Sacramento Bee, Fresno Bee, Modesto Bee, Merced Sun-Star and The Tribune in San Luis Obispo.