California Prop 34 Vote Shows Shift

California voters rejected Proposition 34 to end the Death Penalty in California

November 8, 2012
On Nov. 6th California voters rejected Proposition 34 and an opportunity to replace their death penalty with life with no possibility of parole. In spite of the facts that the Golden State holds 22% of the nation’s death row inmates (725) and has had only 13 executions since 1967 (none since 2006) and most death row inmates die of old age, after decades of taxpayer-financed appeals, in a close vote the death penalty stays as a part of their constitution.

The final vote tally in favor of changing the law was “YES” 47.2% (4,269,535). Those in favor of keeping the law, voting “NO” 52.8% (4,776,815). The close vote indicated a great shift since the last time that California voters indicated their preferences. When the death penalty was re-established in 1977, 71% of the voters favored the death penalty. This 18.2 percentage point drop is significant and in line with other polling across the country. Five states have replaced their death penalty in the past five years, indicating a national shift in opposition of the death penalty nation-wide.

Education of the electorate is an important factor when talking about the death penalty. The Field poll, taken a week before the election in California, showed that greater than two to one (62% to 26%) would support Prop 34 among those who believe that the death is more expensive than giving a convicted felon life in prison with no possibility of parole. Conversely, voters who felt that the death penalty is cheaper, lined up on the “NO” side 59% to 27%. This in spite of the fact that there have been fifteen definitive state studies, including one in California, that show the death penalty to be far more expensive than the life without parole option.

Also from that Field study, many voters (62%) did not believe that “life with no possibility of parole” really meant that the convicted murderer would die in prison. These polling numbers indicated that more needs to be known about the reality of the administration of the death penalty. Life without parole, as it is practiced in non-death penalty states, means just that…..convicted murderers die a natural death in prison.

Going into Election Day, polls indicated that there were 17% undecided voters. Many“undecided” will abstain from voting or stay with the status quo. In California, the potentially most notable voice for replacing the death penalty was Governor Jerry Brown. He did not express his preference until after he voted “YES” on Prop 34. By contrast, Oregon hasa Governor who does not approve of the death penalty and has made that position clear with his moratorium against executions during his term in office.

When making that declaration, Governor Kitzhaber called for the “long overdue discussion” on the death penalty. That discussion has to take place in the legislature and also in the “public square”. Oregonians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (OADP) is working hard to promote that discussion. Education of the electorate is essential.

While California voters rejected this recent opportunity to replace the death penalty, the outcome in Oregon need not be the same. “Oregonians will do what Oregonians do.” Oregon will have the chance to vote on a similar change to our constitution soon. Let’s make sure that voters cast their votes with all the knowledge possible and that their fears are alleviated whenhaving all of the facts.

For more information on OADP, go to or call (503) 990-7060



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