Guide to the Rules for Ballot Propositions in California

Man Voting in California elections

Here are some answers to basic questions about ballot measures in California. For more information, check out the guide by the California Secretary of State.

What is a ballot proposition?

A ballot proposition, aka “referendum,” “initiative,” or “ballot measure,” is a proposed law that is voted on by the public. This is a form of direct democracy, where the people are directly deciding on an issue, rather than their elected representatives deciding on it.

How does a proposition get on the ballot?

There are 2 main ways: (1) an organization collects enough signatures from the voters (see below); or (2) the legislature votes to put it on the ballot.

Note that a voter initiated measure can only appear on a November General election ballot, not a primary election.1Cal. Const., art. II, § 8(c); Elections Code § 9016(a) This is due to SB 202 passed in 2011.

Why would the legislature put a measure on a ballot rather than just passing it themselves?

The legislature is required to put any of the following on the ballot: an amendment to the California Constitution, an amendment to a previously approved voter initiated law (unless the initiative permits amendment or repeal without voter approval), or a bond measure.2Cal. Constitution, Article II, § 10(c).

How many signatures does a proposition need to get on the ballot?

To get a voter initiated measure on the ballot, the “proponents” must submit a petition to the California Attorney General along with a submission fee, and obtain a certain number of signatures from registered voters. If the measure would amend the California Constitution, it would need signatures from registered voters amounting to 8% of the number of people who voted in the most recent election for governor. As of 2018, this would require at least 585,407 signatures. If the measure would simply be a “statute” (a law that is not in the Constitution), it would need signatures from registered voters equal to 5% of the number of people who voted in the most recent election for governor. As of 2018, this would require at least 365,880 signatures.3(Cal. Const., art. II, § 8(b); Elections Code § 9035.

How many days do you have to gather signatures?

180 days.4Elections Code Sec 9014

When do the signatures need to be submitted to get the measure on the next ballot?

In order to qualify for the next general election, the signatures must be certified by the Secretary of State at least 131 days before the election.5Elections Code § 9016; Cal. Const., art. II, § 8(c).

If a ballot proposition is approved, when does it take effect?

A ballot proposition that gets more “YES”s than “NO”s takes effect on the 5th day after the vote has been certified by the Secretary of State (about 6 weeks after election day), unless the proposition states otherwise.6Prop 71 (2018); Cal. Constitution, Article II, Sec 10(a)

If two or more conflicting ballot propositions are approved at the same time, what happens?

If more than one ballot proposition regarding the same issue is approved in an election, the one with more YES votes takes effect.7Cal. Const., art. II, § 10(b)

Related Pages

Guide to Rights for Voters

Open Government

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