California will put a whopping 17 voter initiatives before voters on November 8, the day of the presidential election.
Initiatives include a proposition to legalize marijuana statewide and two measures addressing the death penalty – one proposes repealing it, while the other suggests speeding it up.
Kermit Alexander, a former NFL player, is the primary sponsor of the ballot measure that seeks to speed up the death penalty’s legal process. Alexander’s mother, his sisters and two of his nephews were murdered in 1984.
Thomas Steyer, a prominent Democratic billionaire and environmentalist, has partnered with anti-smoking groups to put forward a proposition to raise the tax on tobacco by another $2 per pack.
Other measures on the ballot will address prominent and controversial issues like gun violence, health care, education, campaign finance, and the porn industry.
California’s constitution was amended in 1911 at the behest of then-Governor Hiram Johnson to allow for new proposed laws to be submitted as initiatives to the public for a direct vote. To go on the ballot, such initiatives require petitions with signatures equaling 5% or 8% of the electorate depending on the type of the initiative.
While many argue the system gives voters more say in the laws that are enacted in their communities, others argue that it primarily serves wealthy interests.
“Why try to pass something in the Legislature when you have the money to get something on the ballot and make it that much more difficult to change it later,” Joe Mathews, a longtime critic of the California governance system, told the New York Times. “This serves people who have the money and have the power.”
Another potential issue with this particular ballot is the sheer number of propositions on it. Steyer echoed this concern when he told the New York Times, “The California ballot can be intimidating — there’s a lot on it.”
He continued, “It’s hard to stay on top of all of it, particularly because professional wordsmiths try to confuse voters all the time. There is an inclination for a lot of voters not to want to vote for initiatives.”
In principle, ballot initiatives for voters are a great way to get everyday citizens involved in the government. State legislatures are often criticized for their lack of productivity due to partisan differences, or for being too cozy with lobbyists and special interest groups. Putting measures directly in front of voters during elections is theoretically the perfect solution to this problem. But it doesn’t always work out that way.
“The initiative process is now being perverted from Hiram Johnson’s vision of it as a tool for the people to level the playing field against the special interests,” Chris Lane, a former aide to President Bill Clinton and a democratic consultant, told the New York Times. “Now, the price of admission is so steep, that often it is only the special interests that can afford to do it.”
Here are the initiatives that will be on the ballot this November:
- Proposition 51: proposes $9 billion in bonds to be put towards improving schools (grades K-12) and community colleges
- Proposition 52: requires voter approval to change hospital fee programs that divert Medi-Cal (the state’s version of Medicaid) funds to the general state fund
- Proposition 53: requires voter approval for the state to issue public infrastructure bonds worth more than $2 billion
- Proposition 54: proposes that the legislature cannot pass any bill until it has been printed and up on the internet for at least 72 hours before being voted on
- Proposition 55: proposes an increase on personal income taxes for incomes over $250,000
- Proposition 56: increases the tax on tobacco to $2 per pack
- Proposition 57: suggests increasing parole and ‘good behavior’ opportunities for felons convicted of non-violent crimes. This measure also seeks to allow judges, rather than prosecutors, to determine whether or not to try juveniles as adults.
- Proposition 58: allows voters to approve a measure allowing non-English languages to be used in public schools
- Proposition 59: allows elected officials to use their power to overturn Citizens United, potentially through proposing an amendment to the U.S. Constitution
- Proposition 60: requires the use of condoms in pornographic films
- Proposition 61: regulates the price of prescription drugs
- Proposition 62: repeals the death penalty
- Proposition 63: seeks to prohibit possession of large-capacity ammunition magazines
- Proposition 64: legalizes marijuana
- Proposition 65: allocates revenue generated from the sale of disposable plastic bags to the Wildlife Conservation Fund
- Proposition 66: streamlines the legal procedure around the death penalty
- Proposition 67: bans grocery stores, pharmacies, convenience stores, and others from using disposable plastic bags