Prop. 40: Candidate for Strangest Ballot Measure Ever

(California Secretary of State)

(California Secretary of State)

There’s a lot to be confused about on this November’s ballot — opaque fundraising, complicated language, unclear outcomes. In a crowded field of confusion, Proposition 40 is one of the leaders in this election, because you have to think twice about voting for the outcome that you want. Tuesday morning on The California Report, host Rachael Myrow spoke with John Myers, political editor for Sacramento’s KXTV, to better understand the proposition.

To start off, Myrow pointed out that Prop. 40 is a referendum, which is different from an initiative.

Here’s the edited transcript of their discussion:

John Myers: A referendum is a different question for the voters, unlike an initiative, which asks the voters to create a law. A referendum asks, “Do you want to overturn an existing law? Do you support an existing law?” So, if you vote “yes” on Prop. 40, you are saying, “Yes, I support the existing law of political districts for the California State Senate.” We may remember that these were drawn by a citizens panel in 2011. A “yes” vote says, “Yes, I like the maps that the independent citizens group drew.” A “no” vote says, “No, I do not like them. I want them redrawn.” So this is a chance for people to weigh in on those maps that were drawn for the State Senate, one of the maps that they drew last year.

Rachael Myrow: It’s good that you mention that, because I think a lot of people think, “Wait a minute, didn’t the Citizens Redistricting Commission have to do with more than just State Senate maps?” But that’s specifically what Proposition 40 is talking about.

John Myers: Indeed. And if we peel it back a little bit more, Prop. 40 was a big gamble that was put on by the California Republican Party. What the California Republican Party and members of the Republican Party in the state saw — when they saw the State Senate map — is there was one particular district along the Central Coast that they didn’t like. There were a few others they might not have liked, either. They challenged those districts in the California Supreme Court. Part of their court challenge was to qualify a ballot referendum at the same time — and to try to force the Supreme Court’s hand to get involved and redraw those maps.

In January, the California Supreme Court said, “No, we’re going to let that citizens map stand.” The California Republican Party had already spent $2 million to qualify the referendum, and they had already submitted the signatures. In California once you put something on the ballot, it is almost impossible to get it off the ballot. So now this is an “orphaned measure.” Even the California Republican Party says, “Ah, it’s okay. We want those maps to stand.”

So, no one is asking voters to overturn the maps. Everyone is asking you to vote “yes” and ratify the Citizens Redistricting Commission’s State Senate map.

Rachael Myrow: Is there anybody who doesn’t want Proposition 40 to pass?

John Myers: Not really, because the reality is that if Prop. 40 fails, then — under the terms of a referendum, if the voters throw out that set of maps for the California State Senate — it would go back to the California Supreme Court.

In its ruling back in January, the state’s high court said, “You know what? We may even consider this very same map, just taking the name ‘Citizens Commission’ off of it and making it our own map.” I think a lot of watchers believe that those districts, that members of the State Senate, and would-be state senators are running in, in this election season, it’s going to happen either way. Either the Court would just basically just bless it again, if Prop. 40 should happen to fail, or if Prop 40 passes, everything goes back. It’s very confusing, but I do think the moral of the story is that we don’t get a lot of referendums, and this is what happens when you put something on the ballot. You can’t pull it back once you submit those signatures. You’ve got to run a campaign of some sort.

Rachael Myrow: So, let me get this straight: no matter what happens November 6th, we’re still going to get the same State Senate maps that the Citizens Redistricting Commission wanted?

John Myers: It’s my belief that that would be the case. I can’t say that 100 percent, but having covered this and having watched the redistricting process and watched what the court said, I think the court thinks that those maps are constitutional. That was their threshold: Were they fair? Did they meet laws about fairness to minority groups and populations? They think the maps are fair. The Republicans didn’t like them for political reasons. One way or the other, I think these are the maps you’re going to get. Having said that, it’s a heck of a lot easier, I think everyone would agree, if the voters said “yes” to Prop. 40, and the map stayed in place that way. Otherwise, you’ve got to go back to court, and that costs time and money.

Rachael Myrow: John, thank you for providing some clarity for us.

John Myers: There’s not much, but happy to do it.