City of Fresno officials want California Attorney General Rob Bonta’s opinion on a 2024 county referendum to decide the timing of elections for Fresno County Sheriff and District Attorney.
Passed in 2022, Assembly Bill 759 moved elections for county sheriffs and district attorneys to align with presidential election cycles — when voter turnout is typically higher.
The law would have moved the elections for those positions in Fresno County to 2028 from 2026 — creating one-time six-year terms for Sheriff John Zanoni and DA Lisa Smittcamp.
In August, Fresno County supervisors approved letting voters decide the election timing issue on the March 2024 ballot.
On direction from the Fresno City Council, City Attorney Andrew Janz called on Bonta to determine the legality of having county voters weigh in.
“Fresno County District Attorney and Sheriff elections have a profound impact on public safety; a pivotal issue for the City of Fresno and its residents,” Janz said in the letter. “These elections must occur, in accordance with the law, when voter participation is at its peak.”
County Election Proposal ‘In Defiance of State Law’: Janz
Authors of AB 759 created the law to ensure voter turnout for powerful positions would be at its highest.
In the November 2022 general election, 44% of Fresno County voters cast ballots. Only 27% voted in the June 2022 primary election.
During the November 2020 presidential election, nearly 76% of registered county voters participated.
The letter from Janz states that the ordinance to move the election would be “in defiance of state law.”
Voters to Review Potentially ‘Unconstitutional Law’: Smittcamp
The more members of the public that can look at and understand AB 759, the better, said Fresno County District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp.
When AB 759 was signed into law, both Smittcamp and Zanoni had filed for election for four-year terms.
“AB 759 is an unprecedented and potentially unconstitutional piece of legislation that was pulled from the inactive file and signed into law by the Governor after the District Attorney and Sheriff candidates pulled their papers to run,” Smittcamp said.
The change in law would extend their terms another two years. Voters did not know about the six-year terms, she said.
“If the Legislature has the authority to change county voting cycles within the state of California, then they should do so in a transparent manner and in a timeframe that provides ample notice to candidates before they make their respective decision to run,” Smittcamp said in a statement to GV Wire.
Governor’s Election Year Does Not Coincide With President’s
Fresno County Counsel Dan Cederborg cited the portion of the California Constitution that gives charter counties the right to determine elections and compensation.
“If the City Attorney had reviewed the legislative history of the passage of AB 759, it would have been apparent that this issue of whether the Legislature had the authority to determine the terms of elected county officers in charter counties was raised, but never actually resolved,” Cederborg said in a statement.
Cederborg said keeping the election of the district attorney and sheriff in the same year as the governor’s election — not on the presidential cycle — makes it easier for voters to focus on local issues.
“This is, presumably, why the election for Governor and other state-wide offices are not held in the Presidential cycle,” Cederborg said in a statement.
Zanoni said he was prepared to run whichever year is decided. He asked in a statement why the governor’s election cycle differs from that of the president.
“Let the voters decide since they are the ones who vote for the people that run for these offices,” Zanoni said.