Friday, April 05, 2013

Beyond the Shelves: Researching California Ballot Measures

California's long history in direct democracy began with the Oct. 10, 1911, special election to amend the state Constitution.

This article is reprinted with permission from the April 5, 2013 edition of The Recorder.

by Chuck Marcus and Peter Gigante

On the ballot that day was the initiative to propose and enact state laws by a direct vote of the people. The amendment passed by an overwhelming majority and allowed any group of citizens in the state that can gather petition signatures equal to 8 percent of the voters in the most recent election for governor to put a new law up for vote on the ballot. (The number of signatures was changed in 1966 to be 5 percent in the case of a statute and 8 percent in the case of an amendment to the California Constitution).

Just over 100 years later, we are now familiar with the big business of collecting signatures for elections, with independent firms paid by proponents to get their requisite numbers from us at all manner of public places. This may be the extent of our knowledge of the initiative process. Conducting research on ballot measures is not as common as legislative history research and requires an entirely separate set of documents and processes.

Here is the process of how a citizen-sponsored idea gets on the ballot and into legislation:

A petition with text of proposed legislation is submitted to the attorney general. The attorney general prepares a title and summary of the chief purposes and points of the petition in 100 words or less and determines if the measure will affect the state's revenues or expenditures. If it will, an estimate of the fiscal impact of the measure is prepared by the legislative analyst's office and included in the summary.

The petition is then circulated by sponsors to get signatures. If it receives the required number, it is submitted to the secretary of State, whose office verifies the signatures. If approved, the initiative will appear on the ballot of the next election.

The ballot pamphlet is prepared by the secretary of State. Initiatives that collect enough valid signatures are declared propositions and are assigned a proposition number by the election division of the secretary of State. Historically, numbering of propositions began with "proposition one" at the each election. The system was changed in 1982, where proposition are numbered in sequence for 10 years before reverting back to "proposition one."

Ballot arguments in favor of and against ballot measures are provided by the proponents and opponents of a ballot measure. Rebuttal arguments may be submitted by these parties in response to the ballot arguments. It is important to note that the language of a ballot argument is not verified for accuracy and may only be changed by a court order.

The ballot pamphlet is required, by statute, to contain a complete copy of each measure, the constitutional or statutory text that each measure would repeal or revise, the arguments and rebuttals for and against, and an impartial analysis of each measure by the legislative analysts office.

DOING THE RESEARCH
Secondary source: First and foremost, Chapter 5, "Ballot Measure Research" in Daniel W. Martin, Henke's California Law Guide, 7th ed. (Newark, NJ: LexisNexis, 2006) is a detailed and indispensable guide to researching California ballot measures. An eighth edition will be published in the near future.

Propositions: The UC Hastings law library has posted PDFs of the complete ballot pamphlets for all California elections from 1911 to the present at Ballotpedia, a nonprofit and nonpartisan collaborative wiki that focuses on state and local ballot measures, provides analysis of individual propositions.

Initiatives: The attorney general's office maintains a website that provides information about initiative measures back to 2004, although information prior to 2007 is incomplete. The OAG site categorizes initiatives into two types: active measures that are either awaiting a title and summary from the OAG or are in process of collecting signatures, and inactive measures, which have failed to collect enough signatures or have been withdrawn by its proponents.

The Election Division of the Secretary of State, history of California initiatives: This history of initiatives from 1912 through January 2013 offers a statistical review of initiatives and provides a subject breakdown of initiatives.

Advisories to county elections officials: When a title and summary for an initiative is issued by the OAG, a copy of the file is submitted to the election division where it is assigned a unique sequential four-digit "initiative number." The division combines this file containing the text of the initiative and the title and summary with circulation instructions for the initiatives proponents. These documents are then sent to all county clerks and registrars of voters as an advisory memo. These advisories (known as CCROVs) are available from the division website and go back to 2007. There is one advisory issued at the time of circulation and one later at the time of a final disposition (i.e., failed, withdrawn, qualified.) Only initiatives with an OAG title and summary receive an initiative number from the Election Division.

Internet archive: Other sources of information on initiatives are the historical OAG and SoS initiative pages via the Internet archive. The archived OAG site covers initiatives from 2000 to 2006.

The archived SoS initiative update page is sometimes the only source linking the OAG file number and the SoS initiative number. This page has some archive entries back as far as 1998.

Online database: The UC Hastings law library's ballot and initiative database went online in 1999 with the support of a federal LSTA grant. The website and database server suffered a major crash in December 2011, and unfortunately the ballot database could not be saved. We were able to locate most of the proposition and initiative PDFs on another UC Hastings file server and they are posted on the library's website. Since the crash, we have been rebuilding the database structure and reseeding the data. At this date, we are scanning and uploading initiative documents from 2000-13. We are, finally, very close to a relaunch of the database that will enable researchers to search the text and accompanying documents for all California propositions and initiatives at one website.

Chuck Marcus is the faculty services librarian and Peter Gigante is a temporary reference librarian at UC Hastings College of the Law.

Beyond the Shelves is a monthly column written for The Recorder by members of the Northern California Association of Law Libraries.

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