On Nov. 8, a measure that would have abolished the death penalty was rejected after residents voted on what will happen to California's death row inmates. Ultimately, they voted down Proposition 62, which would have applied retroactively. In other words, prisoners previously sentenced to death in California would not have faced execution. According to projections of the voting results, Prop. 66, a measure that expedites carrying out the death penalty instead of repealing it, was supported.
Proposition 62 would have banned the death penalty, and transferred convicts on death row to a sentence of life in prison with no option of parole. Additionally, the measure would have required those found guilty of murder to work during their prison term, and given up to 60 percent of those wages to victims' families. Under the previous law, just 20 to 50 percent of a prisoner's earnings could be garnered for that specific purpose.
Heading into the polls, it looked like California voters intended to retain capital punishment. The Los Angeles Times released a poll in September showing that a majority were actually in favor of keeping the death penalty legal. The numbers weren't exactly close, with 51 percent reporting they planned to vote "No" on Proposition 62, and only 40 percent indicating they would vote in favor of the ballot measure. Nine percent were undecided.
Other polls had similar results, with an 18-point spread between those supporting the death penalty repeal (35 percent) to those in favor of keeping capital punishment in California (53 percent). Given that California is a liberal-leaning state, the previous level of opposition to Prop. 62 is perhaps surprising.
In the intervening weeks between polls and voting, opinions did not change much, despite the advocacy of former president, Jimmy Carter. He and his wife expressed their support for Prop. 62, with the couple releasing a joint statement, saying:
We believe that the attempt to administer the death penalty in a fair and efficient manner has failed, and note that a number of states have chosen to abandon this policy for this reason ... It is our hope that California will also lead the nation in adopting a more effective and fiscally responsible law enforcement approach.
Another ballot measure concerning the death penalty also appeared on Californians' ballots: Proposition 66. Rather than repeal capital punishment, Prop. 66 will expedite the execution process, limiting the timeframe for convicted defendants to appeal their cases. Supported by the group "Californians to Mend, Not End, the Death Penalty," Prop. 66 drew a hefty amount of support from law enforcement personnel. However, prior to Election Day, Prop. 66 looked widely unpopular. A mid-October poll conducted by the Hoover Institution showed just 38 percent of Californians in favor of Prop. 66. But voting results indicate the measure will pass, though by a slim margin.
In the case that Prop. 62 and Prop. 66 had both somehow passed, the measure with the most votes would have been implemented. Obviously, the two initiatives were at odds with each other. And on Nov. 8, Californians chose to speed up the execution process, rather than abolish it.