Long Beach took its first concrete step toward reconfiguring its election dates Tuesday night after the City Council voted to approve an ordinance that would move future elections to coincide with statewide contests.
The move was necessitated by Senate Bill 415, also known as the California Voter Participation Rights Act, a law passed the California Legislature that required municipalities with low voter turnout to restructure their elections to match-up with statewide contests.
Under the city’s charter, primary elections are currently held on the second Tuesday of April in even-numbered years, with general run-off elections being held on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in June.
The new ordinance would revise election dates to be held on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in March—the state recently revised its primary date, moving it up to make it more relevant in presidential election cycles—and the first Tuesday in November.
But the city will be keeping an eye on a legal case filed in February by Redondo Beach, which challenged the new state law, saying it violated cities’ rights to local control over elections. In September, a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge decided in favor of Redondo Beach, saying the Senate bill was unconstitutional as applied to charter cities.
How that case ultimately ends up could decide whether the council’s vote Tuesday night was necessary or if it’s nullified.
“The issue is that if the court appeals eventually decides that SB 415 does not apply to charter cities, then the City Council does not have the authority to change the city election dates by ordinance and this action, if taken tonight, would be void and the elections in 2020 would revert to the dates as provided in the city charter,” said Long Beach City Attorney Charles Parkin.
The Redondo Beach case is currently being appealed by the state. A representative from the Long Beach City Attorney’s office said there is no timeframe in which they expect a second ruling to be issued. They stated that while this appeal could settle the case for the time being, it wouldn’t be out of the question to see this case make its way to the California Supreme Court.
If the ruling is upheld, then charter cities including Long Beach could continue to hold off-cycle elections and couldn’t be compelled by the state to align their elections with the state’s and any future changes to election dates would have to be approved by the voters through a charter amendment.
Long Beach voter turnout has waned in past primary elections which put it and other cities like it in the crosshairs of this Senate bill. In the past four cycles—including 2010, 2012, 2014 and 2016—voter turnout was more than 25 percent lower than the statewide primary participation rates.
All four years had voter turnouts that were less than 20 percent, with the 2012 primary only bringing out 12.42 percent of registered voters.
In this year’s April primary that saw Mayor Robert Garcia re-elected to a second term in office, less than 16 percent of the city’s registered voters participated. However, in the June run-off, turnout was 28.7 percent; in the November 2016 presidential election, turnout was 63.3 percent.
Outgoing Gov. Jerry Brown signed the “Prime Time Primary” act into law last year, moving California’s primary election from June to March for the upcoming presidential election in 2020. Moving the city’s elections to align with the state could ensure that the next mayor of Long Beach is elected by a larger number of residents of the city that they will serve as it will be decided alongside what will likely be a contentious battle for the White House.