A guide to ballot initiatives…so far

150 150 Stacy Danielson

If you have not already marked your calendar for the general election on November 6, 2012, now is a good time to do so.  It’ll be here before you know it…but not before you are barraged for months by campaign ads and mailers.

To most, the general election is when we vote for the next president of the United States, and of course that is what most of the media hype surrounds.  But the general election is also a time when we have the very valuable opportunity to vote on ballot measures that hit much closer to home.  

For better or worse, California has an initiative process by which citizens can put legislation on the ballot and turn them into laws without the Legislature touching them. The opposite of this where people can undo previously passed legislation, by the way, is called the referendum process.

We see the initiative process at work when we pass by signature gatherers standing outside of the neighborhood grocery store. You know, the people with the clipboard asking if a certain issue is important to you?

Well, for an initiative to qualify for the ballot it takes the amount of signatures equal in number to either 5 or 8 percent of the number of people who voted in the California governor’s race, depending on whether the initiative makes a statutory or constitutional change, respectively. 

This year, those percentages work out to about 500,000 and 800,000, with just over a million people voting in the election that put Jerry Brown back in office.  Gathering these signatures is a tremendously difficult task to most, and many end up having to pay millions of dollars to signature gathering firms to reach that magic number in time (for more on this hotly-debated topic, see my previous blog post on the initiative process).

For the last general election, in November of 2010, there was a groundswell of measures clamoring for a spot on the ballot, and many predict that this year will follow suit.  To give you an idea of how difficult it is to actually get an initiative on the ballot, in preparation for the 2010 general election there were roughly 94 initiatives in circulation, or “on the street,” and only nine of those actually landed on the 2010 ballot. The signature gathering process whittles the numbers in brutal fashion.

Since January of 2011, 95 new initiatives have been filed with the Secretary of State’s office and currently only 8 have qualified for the November 2012 ballot.  As other initiatives continue to gather signatures toward qualifying, now is the time to get a head start on learning about these qualifying measures.  A great resource for finding out about these initiatives is the Secretary of State’s website.

The ideas that have managed to survive the signature-gathering process so far are (listed by the titles given by the Attorney General):

  1. The Safe, Clean, and Reliable Drinking Water Supply Act of 2012
  2. Prohibits Political Contributions by Payroll Deduction. Prohibitions on Contributions to Candidates. Initiative Statute.
  3. Changes Law to Allow Auto Insurance Companies to Set Prices Based on a Driver’s History of Insurance Coverage. Initiative Statute.
  4. Redistricting. State Senate Districts. Referendum.
  5. Death Penalty Repeal. Initiative Statute.
  6. Three Strikes Law. Sentencing for Repeat Felony Offenders. Initiative Statute.
  7. Human Trafficking. Penalties. Sex Offender Registration. Initiative Statute.
  8. Genetically Engineered Foods. Mandatory Labeling. Inititative Statute.

In the coming weeks, I’ll be providing more in-depth coverage on each of these ideas to help prepare you to make your own decision in November.

The worst thing we can do as voters is walk into a booth and randomly check yes or no, or let a lack of knowledge prevent us from checking anything at all on a list of items that will most certainly affect our day to day lives.


Stacy Danielson

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