In a move that could affect cities across California, Redondo Beach is suing over a state law requiring local governments to move their election dates to boost voter turnout.
Last week, the beach town filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court challenging SB 415, or the California Voter Participation Rights Act.
Signed into law in September 2015, the bill requires cities, school boards and special districts that see low voter turnout in local elections to move their races to March or November of even-numbered years, when statewide elections bring more voters to the polls.
Cities were given a Jan. 1 deadline to outline how they will go about syncing their elections by November 2020.
The nine-page complaint argues that, contrary to the position of Attorney General Xavier Becerra, SB415 does not apply to charter cities. It seeks to have a court say so and to bar the state from enforcing the law in Redondo Beach.
The suit claims SB 415 disenfranchises voters in charter cities because it violates the home-rule provisions of the California Constitution, which grant charter cities exclusive authority over municipal affairs, including the timing of elections.
Over the past two years, virtually every South Bay city and school board has moved its elections to follow SB 415 by lengthening or shortening terms.
But in Redondo Beach, the hotly divided City Council could not agree on how to make the switch.
Mayor Bill Brand vetoed a 3-2 vote to extend terms by one year, saying that elected officials giving themselves more time in office is “undemocratic.” Brand’s critics argued the move was unnecessary, since all the state needed was a plan and voters would need to approve it, anyway.
By not following SB 415, Redondo Beach risks exposure to a lawsuit from local constituents.
The city decided to mount a legal challenge of its own so it could continue holding elections in March of odd-numbered years, with runoffs in May.
Last year, the school board voted to extend terms by more than a year. But City Attorney Mike Webb said because Redondo Beach Unified is also governed by the charter, that change must be approved by voters.
‘Taking away local control’
“SB415 violates the California Constitution and ignores the will of the voters of the City of Redondo Beach by taking away local control,” Webb said in a statement. “SB415 is yet another effort by the state to take away the authority of local residents over their own lives and their own government. For that reason, the city thought it was important to challenge it.”
The Attorney General’s Office did not respond to requests for comment on the lawsuit.
More charter cities could join Redondo Beach. Webb said officials in three have have expressed interest.
In addition to challenging the law’s applicability, Redondo Beach will challenge the merits of the bill itself, arguing that in the city’s case, sometimes more voters come to the polls for local elections than statewide ones.
The 2015 city election saw a 29 percent turnout, compared to 22.2 percent in the 2014 statewide primary. And in 2013, 29.7 percent of voters came out for the municipal election over 28.5 percent for the 2012 statewide primary.