The next election for Fresno County sheriff and district attorney could revert to 2026 — not 2028, as mandated by a 2022 state law.
Fresno County Supervisor Steve Brandau is proposing a special election that will ask voters to keep those elections in the same year as the governor is elected. The supervisors are scheduled to discuss the matter at their meeting on Tuesday.
“It allows us to kind of put the hyperfocus on county issues, on those two valuable elections, rather than get them lost inside of all of the next presidential cycle.” — Supervisor Steve Brandau
A state law — signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom in September 2022 — moved the election of the top two county law enforcement positions to the presidential election year. It applies to nearly every county in California.
“We’re not the ones changing (election dates). We want to keep it the same,” Brandau told GV Wire. “It allows us to kind of put the hyperfocus on county issues, on those two valuable elections, rather than get them lost inside of all of the next presidential cycle.”
If AB 759 remains, it allows those elected in 2022 — DA Lisa Smittcamp and Sheriff John Zanoni — to serve a one-time-only six-year term through January 2029.
If Brandau’s motion carries, voters can decide on March 5 to change the charter and circumvent the state law.
Zanoni: Good Either Way
Zanoni tells GV Wire he is Ok with a four-year or six-year first term.
“I do not have a preference in this case, I am prepared to run for the Office of Sheriff in Fresno County in 2026 or 2028. My job as Sheriff of Fresno County is to focus on public safety for the residents of Fresno County, I have no control of over when the election will be held,” Zanoni said.
Smittcamp, in a statement after this story first published, supports the county action
“The Fresno County Board of Supervisors is properly challenging the passage of AB 759. This type of legislative action, where lawmakers change the rules arbitrarily, is becoming commonplace in Sacramento in these unprecedented times,” Smittcamp said.
Zanoni questioned the legality of extending the terms.
“The only legal matter that some are questioning is the fact the additional two years were added to the term after the election was certified,” Zanoni said. “This asks the question, would others have decided to run if they knew prior to the election it was going to be a six-year term? Would the voters have voted differently if they knew the person being elected would serve for six years instead of four? I believe it would have been more transparent for the voters had AB 759 been passed before the election so all voters would have known this fact prior to voting,” Zanoni said.
Smittcamp also mentioned the fairness of changing the terms after the filing period passed, calling it “irresponsible, and potentially unconstitutional.”
McCarty: More Voters in Presidential Election Years
The bill’s author, Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento, told GV Wire last year, “These elected positions should be voted on during elections where there is high turnout – like the presidential election. Counties can decide if they want to move other officer elections to the presidential one if they want.”
Fresno County voter turnout was 27% for the June 2022 primary — when the sheriff and DA were last elected. Turnout for the March 2020 presidential primary was 42%. Any runoff would carry over to the November election.
“Yes, there’s some fewer voters, but the focus becomes much more about those two important offices,” Brandau said.
Law Favors County ‘Home Rule’: County Analysis
A staff report on Brandau’s resolution says the state Constitution gives counties with their own charter — such as Fresno County — more power for “home rule” over certain laws adopted by the state Legislature.
“Counties have authority to opt out of the general law and follow their own law,” the county analysis states.
The analysis also said that a provision of AB 759 (codified as Elections Code §1300) applies to charter counties that prior to Jan. 1, 2021, “expressly specified in their charter when an election for district attorney or sheriff would occur.”
The Fresno County charter does not expressly state when to hold DA and sheriff elections — only four counties in the state do. An analysis of the bill from the Assembly elections committee acknowledged AB 759 could conflict with the constitutional powers of a charter county.
Brandau expects this could wind up in court.
“I will acknowledge that this could end up in front of a judge. But our county counsel believes that it would be a proper strategy for us,” Brandau said.
What the Voters Could Decide
Any changes to the county charter have to be approved by the voters. If the supervisors pass the resolution, voters in March will decide whether to change the county charter from “All elective officers shall be nominated and elected at the time and in the manner and for the terms now or hereafter provided by general law” to the following:
“Members of the Board of Supervisors shall be nominated and elected at the time and in the manner for the terms now or hereinafter provided by general law. All elective officers other than members of the Board of Supervisors shall be nominated and elected for four-year terms in the year in which the Governor of the State of California is elected, in the manner provided for by general law concerning primaries and general elections. Nothing in this section shall extend or shorten the four-year term being served by any elected officer of the county at the time of the adoption of this section. Nothing in this section shall change or amend any provision in this Charter governing the filling of vacancies in elective county offices.”