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Ballot Initiatives and Propositions

Voter Initiatives

(Read fiscal analyses of voter initiatives.)

The initiative is the power of the citizenry to act as legislators in proposing statutes and amendments to the California Constitution. It was established in 1911—along with referenda and recall—as part of the Progressive Movement. There have been over 1,700 initiatives submitted over the past century, with roughly one-fifth qualifying for the ballot.

The Overall Process. The process of qualifying a statewide initiative begins with the submission of a request (along with $2000) to the Attorney General’s (AG's) Office. During the first 30 days after submission, the public may provide comments to the initative's proponents via a website operated by the AG. The proponents may amend their measure any time up to five days after this public comment period.

The LAO and Department of Finance (DOF) are required to complete a joint analysis of the measure’s impact on state and local government finances. The LAO and DOF have 50 calendar days from the original submission date to provide that assessment to the AG. The AG then has 15 days to prepare a title and summary, which is provided to the Secretary of State (SOS) and included on the signature petitions.

To qualify for the ballot, supporters must gather a specified number of valid signatures with that number depending, in part, on whether the initiative proposes to change state law or the state Constitution. (Constitutional amendments have a higher signature requirement.) Supporters then have 180 days to gather signatures and turn them into the appropriate county elections office. The Legislature is required to convene a public hearing on each measure that has gathered at least 25 percent of the required signatures. Once SOS has certified that initiative proponents have gathered enough valid signatures, the measure goes on the next general election ballot—assuming it is at least 131 days before that election and the proponents have not withdrawn their measure.

The LAO Role. The LAO works with DOF to prepare an impartial assessment of each statewide initiative submitted by the public before it can be circulated for signature gathering. State law requires that this analysis provide an estimate of the measure’s impact on state and local government revenues and costs. The analysis typically also includes relevant background information and a summary of the measure’s provisions. The LAO does not take a position on proposed initiatives, nor does it advise proponents on what changes they should make during the public review period. The AG incorporates a summary of the fiscal estimate developed by the LAO and DOF into the summary that is included on the petitions circulated by signature gatherers.

Ballot Propositions

(Read fiscal analyses of ballot Propositions.)

The proposition is the power of voters to determine whether to implement proposed changes to the state Constitution or other laws. Voters have considered 140 propositions since 2000 with just over half of those being approved.

Types of Propositions. There are several different types of propositions that can appear on the statewide ballot. (For a table listing the number of propositions considered by voters each year since 1974, see here.) The people of California have the power to place propositions on the ballot through the voter initiative process. This includes initiatives to amend the Constitution or other state laws (or both), as well as referenda to overturn certain legislatively enacted laws. In addition, with a two-thirds vote, the Legislature can put measures to amend the state Constitution or approve bond financing before voters. (Bond measures also require the Governor’s approval to be placed on the ballot.) With a majority vote, the Legislature can also place on the ballot measures to change state laws previously added or amended by voter initiative.

The LAO Role. With the passage of Proposition 9 on the June 1974 ballot, voters gave the responsibility to provide impartial analyses of all statewide propositions to the LAO. For each proposition that appears on the ballot, the LAO provides four separate pieces of information: (1) the analysis of the measure, (2) fiscal summary bullets (included at the bottom of the AG's title and summary), (3) a yes/no summary (which appears at the front of the pamphlet), and (4) a ballot label used in county voting materials. In addition, for any election having one or more bond measures, the LAO prepares an overview of state bond debt. This appears after the materials on the last proposition.