For Europeans it might be difficult to imagine voting directly on controversial themes, such as the abolition of the death penalty. In California, the United States’ most populous state that counts about 38 million inhabitants, voters were faced with “proposition 34” and the question whether to reprieve California’s 725 prisoners on death row.
Following rejection by 53% of California’s eligible voters the death penalty will be maintained as the highest means of criminal punishment in the Western US state. At the same time and on the same day, California approved the ballot measure on three-strikes with 68%, softening lifelong-punishment in US jails: Criminals who had been in prison already twice will not be punished anymore with a 25-years-life-sentence when committing a nonviolent and non-serious crime for a third time.
Also, propositions of US Election Day were to legalize same-sex marriage (in four US states) and Marijuana (in six US states), the introduction of mandatory healthcare following Barack Obama’s healthcare reform (four states) and the increase of taxes (again in California). All propositions and (preliminary) results can be found at Ballotpedia, a free, collaborative and online encyclopedia about state politics in the United States at 2012.ballotpedia.org.
In the United States, a “ballot measure” or “proposition” (briefly called “prop”) is the term used for constitutional amendments that were directly initiated by citizens, following the collection of signatures. The ballot process can be initiated at state, county and local level. Ballot measures exist in 38 US states, whereas for example Texas, New York or Wisconsin do not know these forms of direct democracy.
Propositions are systematically numbered by the states. The assigned digits then often become the synonym for the issue at stake. In California for example, “Prop 34” was the acronym for the ballot measure on the abolition of the death penalty, widely used by both sides during the campaign.
Text by Cora Pfafferott