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California Ballot Initiatives: What, How, and Why?

California Ballot Initiatives: What, How, and Why?

On Oct. 5, the California ballot boxes opened for early voters. Alongside the contentious presidential race, residents of the state were faced with 12 ballot measures to vote on.

According to the Initiative and Referendum Institute (IRI) at USC, a ballot measure or proposition is a type of proposal to either enact or repeal currently standing state laws and amendments. They are placed on voting ballots for the public to decide on. The IRI splits these measures into three subcategories: 

An initiative, which aims to create a new law or constitutional amendment. 

A referendum, which aims to repeal current standing legislature.

A measure, which is a proposition placed on voting ballots by state legislatures. 

California citizens can attempt to initiate legislation via ballot initiatives through a 4-step process in the state. They must file the proposal with the attorney general, begin to collect signatures, report that at least 25% of the required number of signatures have been collected by the campaign office, and finally, they must then file the signatures with their local officials. Both Proposition 20 and Proposition 25 on the Nov. 3 ballot were citizen-initiated. 

The state legislature requires a two-thirds vote in the legislative chambers to place an amendment to the California Constitution on the ballot. The governor’s signature is not required for this process, unlike the method of statues and bond issues, which require their signature following a majority vote in the state assembly and senate. 

A total of 46 ballot initiatives were filed in 2020, which is noticeably less than its previous counterparts. 

According to, of the 46 initiatives filed, only 12 measures are appearing on the Nov. 3 election ballot. They are as follows:

Proposition 14: The Stem Cell Research Institute Bond Initiative supports giving $5.5 billion in general obligation bonds for California’s stem cell research institute, as well as proposes changes to the establishment’s organization and programs. 

Proposition 15: The Tax on Commercial and Industrial Properties for Education and Local Government Funding Initiative would require that properties, both commercial and industrial, be taxed on market value instead of the purchase price. This proposition has several exceptions, meant to exclude small businesses from this new tax. According to, California fiscal analysts believe that this change would create $8-12.5 billion in revenue every year.

Proposition 16: The Repeal Proposition 209 Affirmative Action Amendment is exactly as it sounds. This initiative serves to remove Proposition 209, which was ratified in 1996. Prop 209 states that both the government and public institutions were not allowed to discriminate against or show favorable treatment to any one person on the account of several factors: race, color, ethnicity, sex, and national origin in public employment, public education, and public contracting. If passed, Prop 16 would reverse Prop 209, meaning that affirmative action would become legal again in the state of California. 

Proposition 17: The Voting Rights Restoration for Persons on Parole Amendment would allow individuals who are on parole for felony convictions to vote. In California, felons are currently disqualified from voting until both their prison and parole sentences are finished. 19 states currently allow people on parole for a felony conviction to vote.

Proposition 18: The Primary Voting for 17-Year-Olds Amendment is an amendment to the California Constitution that would change the voting age restrictions for the primaries to 17 on the condition that the voting individual will be 18 at the time of the general election. This statute is already in place in 18 other states, as well as Washington D.C.

Proposition 19: The Property Tax Transfers, Exemptions, and Revenue for Wildlife Agencies and Counties Amendment is a tax amendment that changes several tax laws in the state of California. It would allow eligible homeowners (individuals over 55, disabled, or displaced due to natural disasters) to transfer tax assessments via an upward adjustment, meaning they could move to a home with a higher market value without being subjected to a large tax hike. It would also increase the number of times an eligible homeowner can transfer their tax assessments from one to three, as well as requiring that secondary residences being passed down via inheritance be reassessed to the market value during the transfer. 75% of additional funds that came via this initiative would be given to the California Fire Response Fund, which would go to staffing fire suppression and full-time employees at fire stations. Another 15% would go to the County Revenue Protection Fund, which would serve to reimburse counties for any losses in revenue that were the result of the new property tax changes.

Proposition 20: The Criminal Sentencing, Parole, and DNA Collection Initiative is a citizen-initiated measure that would serve to recategorize certain crimes, change the list of felonies that deny early parole, and mandate collection of DNA for some misdemeanors. Some specific types of theft and fraud would be eligible to be charged as either a felony or a misdemeanor rather than solely a misdemeanor. This proposition would make amendments to both Proposition 47 (2014) and Proposition 57 (2016) which were designed to reduce prison populations. 

See Also

Proposition 21: The Local Rent Control Initiative would give local government the power to put rent control in place on housing that was occupied for the first time by a resident more than 15 years ago, replacing the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act. Prop 21 would widely broaden the range of properties eligible for rent control by increasing the time period required for apartments, as well as creating an exception for landlords who own two or fewer homes that have either subdivided interests or distinct titles. This is a modified version of Proposition 10, which was defeated in 2018.

Proposition 22: The App-Based Drivers as Contractors and Labor Policies Initiative would define any individual that drives via an app-based business as an independent contractor rather than an employee or an agent. Doordash, Lyft, and Uber placed a combined $90 million in favor of this initiative. In all, Yes of Proposition 22 received $199.12 million, making it the highest contributed to an initiative campaign in California history.

Proposition 23: The Dialysis Clinic Requirements Initiative makes changes to the requirements for California chronic dialysis clinics. It would require institutions to have a physician on-site during patient treatment hours, report data found from infections related to dialysis, and prevent them from refusing any patient over financial concerns. The initiative would also require consent from the California health department to close any clinic.

Proposition 24: The Consumer Personal Information Law would expand California’s consumer data privacy laws. This new proposal includes consumers the ability to ask for their personal information not to be shared via request or an “opt-out” option, as well as the ability for any consumer to request a correction in their logged personal information. The new law would also require permission for data collection to be obtained by consumers younger than 16, and if the consumer is younger than 13, consent must come from a parent or legal guardian. 

Proposition 25: The Replace Cash Bail with Risk Assessments Referendum is a citizen-initiated ballot measure that regards upholding Senate Bill 10 (SB 10). Currently, in California, an individual can pay a cash bond to be released from jail before their trial on the condition that they must return to court for the hearings. This new proposition would end the cash bail system entirely, replacing it with three classifications of prisoners: low, medium, and high risk. Their status of release before trial is dependent on their risk classification, with the exception of some misdemeanor suspects on certain conditions, who would not be given a risk assessment. 

There was an additional proposition (Proposition 13) that was defeated on March 3, 2020, that supported additional general obligation bonds for schools in California. This proposition received over $13 million in support contributions and $0 in opposition contributions.  It failed to pass by a thin margin, as 53.01% of voters penciled in “no” on the ballot. 

The Nov. 3 ballot holds a lot of important issues to vote on outside of the presidency. The propositions supported by Californians at the polls this election have the ability to impact people’s careers, financial situations, and lives.