With this year’s November election fast approaching, attorneys at Olson Remcho have been representing local governments on a wide range of election issues, including matters for Los Angeles County, the City of Redwood City, the City of Berkeley, and the City of Oakland.
Partner Tom Willis, who advises a number of municipalities on redistricting, election law, conflicts of interest, and initiatives and referenda, notes that the gradual consolidation of what were previously off-year local elections into the every-two-year statewide cycle has led to a jam-packed ballot including numerous local and state races and initiatives.
“It’s a hectic, but interesting time for election lawyers,” said Willis. “The issues are all over the map from fairly straightforward issues like bringing city charters into compliance with current state law, such as California Voting Rights Act, to litigated matters like granting the vote in school board elections to non-citizens – a case we’re currently handling for the City of Oakland.”
In that case, an Alameda County Superior Court judge ruled on August 30, 2022 that a City of Oakland ballot measure that would allow the Oakland City Council to authorize non-citizens to vote in school board elections can be put before voters in November.
In January 2022 the Oakland City Council voted to place a measure on this November’s ballot that would amend the Oakland Charter to allow the Council, by ordinance, to authorize non-citizens, who make up 14% of Oakland’s population, to vote in school board elections, giving them “representation in key decisions that impact their education and their lives.” The City was sued to keep the measure off the ballot, with opponents arguing that such a measure would conflict with the state Constitution that declares, “A United States citizen 18 years of age and resident in this State may vote.” A similar law in San Francisco was ruled unconstitutional by a state judge earlier this year; that decision is on appeal.
In his ruling, Judge Michael Markman stated, “There’s a strong presumption under California law that the constitutionality of ballot initiatives is determined after the election is over.” According to a San Francisco Chronicle article on the case, Olson Remcho’s Karen Getman argued that “the right to speak on ballot measures is one of the most precious rights in our state.” Getman told the Chronicle after the hearing, “We are very pleased that Judge Markman understood the importance of allowing the voters to decide on the measure in the first instance.”