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    Huntington Beach to place controversial charter reforms, including voter ID, on ballot
    • October 6, 2023

    Huntington Beach will ask voters in March if they want to implement voter identification requirements and local monitoring of ballot drop boxes in its elections, despite legal warnings from state officials that advised against placing the controversial proposals on ballots.

    The election reforms have drawn the most scrutiny and uproar, but Huntington Beach voters will also weigh in on other proposals. The city is asking voters whether to update local flag laws, move to a two-year budget cycle and about several administrative changes.

    The council approved moving ahead with the charter amendment proposals in a 4-3 vote Thursday night, Oct. 5, with the council’s conservative majority giving the OK.

    Councilmember Casey McKeon said the election changes are about increasing faith and turnout in city elections and not about voter fraud.

    Councilmember Natalie Moser countered, saying it’s disingenuous to say it would increase voter turnout, but is really voter disenfranchisement and would lead to Huntington Beach being sued.

    “We’re not improving people’s vision of this safe election. We are not doing that. It’s the exact opposite; we are sowing chaos in our elections,” Moser said. “I trust the elections right now. I will not trust them under these circumstances.”

    The election changes and other amendments to the city’s charter will appear on the March 2024 California Primary ballot.

    The election reforms include voter ID, city monitoring of ballot drop boxes and a requirement to have at least 20 in-person voting locations. The election changes, if approved by voters, wouldn’t be implemented until 2026.

    The city attorney will return at a council meeting later this month with the ballot language. Thursday’s meeting was the finale of a series focused on the proposed charter amendments.

    The meeting became strained at one point when Councilmember Dan Kalmick asked Councilmember Gracey Van Der Mark if she supported women’s suffrage. Van Der Mark asked to stay on topic and Mayor Tony Strickland called the question insulting.

    Ahead of the meeting, the ACLU of Southern California and Disability Rights California wrote a letter to the City Council, saying, “The voter ID, drop box monitoring, and voting location provisions will likely result in voter suppression.

    “We urge you to reject the proposed charter amendment to avoid voter disenfranchisement and to avoid the waste of taxpayer resources on an election, implementation, and unnecessary litigation,” the groups wrote.

    Top state officials last week also said Huntington Beach’s election proposals would violate state law, and that they would take action if they are placed on the ballot.

    The language for the election proposals was amended during the series of meetings from “shall” to “may,” which Councilmember Casey McKeon said would allow the city to test the changes and even not make them permanent if it became too expensive to implement.

    Despite the wording change, the ACLU and Disability Rights California said the language would still conflict with state law.

    Dozens of residents on Thursday gave their final pleas for the council to stop moving forward with the charter amendments, carrying signs asking for the council to vote no.

    The city will also ask voters to change Huntington Beach’s flag laws. The proposal would limit the flags the city can fly to the American flag, the California flag, the Huntington Beach flag, the County of Orange flag, flags of military branches, the prisoner of war/missing in action flag, and the Olympic Games flag. The City Council would need to unanimously approve flying any other flags on city property.

    The proposal comes months after Huntington Beach moved to no longer allow the Pride flag and others to fly on city property. The updated list includes the Olympic flag.

    “This is what happens when you try to legislate exclusion; you constantly find yourself having to go back and put stuff in,” Councilmember Rhonda Bolton said. The city hopes to host games in the 2028 Olympics.

    Half of the 10 largest cities in Orange County use a biennial budget, according to a staff report. The advantages, according to the report, include reduced staff time from not having to do a six-month budget process yearly, but the disadvantages include having to make more extensive budget adjustments and forecasting the city’s finances further into the future.

    Chief Financial Officer Sunny Han supports the budget change. Huntington Beach wouldn’t move to a biennial budget until 2026.

    The administrative changes, which will be bundled with the biennial budget proposal as one measure, include updating language and changing how the council fills vacancies. Council vacancy appointments would serve until the next general municipal election only, rather than the rest of the term.

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    ​ Orange County Register