Governor Issues New Executive Order Suspending Voting Rights Act Deadlines
by Derek P. Cole on April 10, 2020
Yesterday, Governor Newsom amended his previous executive order regarding deadlines under the California Voting Rights Act (“CVRA”). His new order clarifies that the suspension of CVRA deadlines applies to both of the “safe harbor” periods provided in Elections Code section 10010. It is clear now the suspension applies to the first, 45-day period local agencies have to consider adoption of a resolution expressing intention to convert to district elections, as well as the second, 90-day period for the public hearings to create districts.
The latest executive order also clarifies how the suspension affects the counting of time for each of the “safe harbor” periods. The order borrows from the traditional concept of “tolling” in litigation. Agencies should count the number of days that elapsed from the start of the applicable “safe-harbor” period and March 20, 2020, the date of the Governor’s initial executive order regarding CVRA deadlines. This will give the number of days that have elapsed for the applicable “safe harbor” period.
For instance, if an agency received a letter demanding it convert to district elections on March 2, then it should conclude that 18 days have elapsed within its initial, 45-day “safe harbor” period. Under this example, the agency would have 27 days left to adopt a resolution expressing its intention to covert to district elections.
The updated executive order states that the “safe harbor” deadlines will begin running again upon “further notice.” When and how “further notice” will be provided is not specified, but presumably the Governor intends to provide a further order restarting the deadlines when “stay at home” orders are lifted.
The updated executive order also declares the reasons for the suspension of the CVRA deadlines. The purpose “is to protect public health and safety during the period when the State Public Health Officer and other public health officials have determined that it is necessary to engage in physical distancing to minimize the spread of COVID-19.” As the order explains, requiring agencies to comply with any CVRA deadline during the current public-health emergency would “force Californians to choose between fully participating in their democratic process and safeguarding their own health and safety, as well as the health and safety of their communities.”