Court of Appeal Holds the California's Voter Participation Rights Act Does Not Apply to Charter Cities

Apr 7, 2020
In City of Redondo Beach v. State of California, et al., the court held that the California Voter Participation Rights Act (CVPRA) does not apply to charter cities.

The CVPRA prohibits a “political subdivision” from holding a municipal election on any date other than a statewide election date if holding an election on a non-statewide election date previously resulted in turnout at least 25 percent below the average turnout in that jurisdiction for the last four statewide general elections. The CVPRA defines “political subdivision” as “a geographic area of representation . . . including, but not limited to, a city, a school district, a community college district, or other district organized pursuant to state law.”

In 2017, over the League’s objection, the California Attorney General issued an opinion concluding that the CVPRA applies to charter cities. Following the issuance of the opinion, the City of Redondo Beach —a charter city—filed an action against the state seeking a declaration that the CVPRA, as applied to charter cities, violates the California Constitutional provision that authorizes charter cities to “govern themselves, free of state legislative intrusion, as to those matters deemed municipal affairs.”  

The city sought an order prohibiting the state from enforcing or implementing the CVPRA against the city. The city argued that the timing of municipal elections is a municipal affair, not a matter of statewide concern, and the CVPRA is irreconcilably inconsistent with the city’s charter, which commands that general municipal elections will be held in March of odd-numbered years.

The Court of Appeal for the Second Appellate District agreed with the city that the CVPRA cannot be applied to charter cities. However, the court did not go so far as to hold that the CVPRA is unconstitutional as applied to charter cities. Instead, the court found that the Legislature did not demonstrate a clear intent to apply the CVPRA to charter cities, because the definition of “political subdivision” in the CVPRA does not expressly include charter cities.