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Direct Democracy in California: The Initiative – Part 1

The three forms of direct democracy in the State of California

By Chris Micheli, January 20, 2020 6:02 am

One of the three forms of direct democracy in the State of California is the initiative. It is found in California’s Constitution, Article 2, Section 8. It is defined in Section 8(a) as “the power of the electors to propose statutes and amendments to the Constitution and to adopt or reject them.”

The initiative process begins by presenting to the Secretary of State a petition that sets forth the text of the proposed statute or amendment to the Constitution and is certified to have been signed by electors equal in number to 5 percent in the case of a statute, and 8 percent in the case of an amendment to the Constitution, of the votes for all candidates for Governor at the last gubernatorial election.

If that occurs, then the Secretary of State submits the measure at the next general election held at least 131 days after it qualifies or at any special statewide election held prior to that general election. The Governor may call a special statewide election for the measure.

Section 8(d) prohibits an initiative measure from embracing more than one subject from being submitted to the electors or having any effect. In addition, pursuant to Section 8(e), an initiative measure may not include or exclude any political subdivision of the State from the application or effect of its provisions based upon approval or disapproval of the initiative measure, or based upon the casting of a specified percentage of votes in favor of the measure, by the electors of that political subdivision.

Section 8(f) specifies an initiative measure may not contain alternative or cumulative provisions wherein one or more of those provisions would become law depending upon the casting of a specified percentage of votes for or against the measure.

Under Section 10(a), an initiative statute approved by a majority of votes cast thereon takes effect on the fifth day after the Secretary of State files the statement of the vote for the election at which the measure is voted on, but the measure may provide that it becomes operative after its effective date. Section 10(b) notes that, if provisions of two or more measures approved at the same election conflict, the provisions of the measure receiving the highest number of affirmative votes prevails.

Section 10(c) permits the Legislature to amend or repeal an initiative statute by another statute that becomes effective only when approved by the electors unless the initiative statute permits amendment or repeal without the electors’ approval.

Section 10(d) provides that, before circulation of an initiative or referendum petition for signatures, a copy must be submitted to the Attorney General who then prepares a title and summary of the measure as provided by law. Section 10(e) specifies that the Legislature must provide for the manner in which a petition is to be circulated, presented, and certified, and the manner in which a measure is to be submitted to the electors.

Article 1 in the Elections Code deals with initiative and referendum petitions, which are treated alike. Section 9001 specifies that, before the circulation of an initiative or referendum petition for signatures, the text of the proposed measure must be submitted to the Attorney General with a written request that a circulating title and summary of the chief purpose and points of the proposed measure be prepared. The electors presenting the request are known as the “proponents.” The Attorney General must preserve the written request until after the next general election.

Proponents of a proposed initiative measure are required to provide, at the time of submitting the text of the proposed measure, an original signed certification and public contact information. In addition, the proponents of a proposed initiative measure, at the time of submitting the text of the proposed measure to the Attorney General, must pay a fee to the Attorney General of $2,000 that is to be placed in a trust fund in the office of the Treasurer and refunded to the proponents if the measure qualifies for the ballot within two years from the date the summary is furnished to the proponents. If the measure does not qualify within that period, the fee is immediately paid into the General Fund of the state.

All proposed initiative measures must be submitted to the Attorney General’s Initiative Coordinator located in the Sacramento Attorney General’s Office via U.S. Postal Service, alternative mail service, or personal delivery. Only printed documents will be accepted; facsimile or email delivery will not be accepted.

Section 9002 requires that, upon receipt of a request from the proponents of a proposed initiative measure for a circulating title and summary, the Attorney General is to initiate a public review process for a period of 30 days by posting the text of the proposed initiative measure on the Attorney General’s Internet Web site and inviting, and providing for the submission of, written public comments on the proposed initiative measure on the Attorney General’s Internet Web site.

In addition, during the public review period, the proponents of the proposed initiative measure may submit amendments to the measure that are reasonably germane to the theme, purpose, or subject of the initiative measure as originally proposed. However, amendments cannot be submitted if the initiative measure as originally proposed would not effect a substantive change in law.

Section 9003 provides that, in the event that the Attorney General is a proponent of a proposed measure, the circulating title and summary of the chief purpose and points of the proposed measure, including an estimate or opinion on the financial impact of the measure, must be prepared by the Legislative Counsel, and the other duties of the Attorney General specified in the law with respect to the circulating title and ballot title and summary and an estimate of the financial effect of the measure shall be performed by the Legislative Counsel.

Section 9004 specifies that, upon receipt of the text of a proposed initiative measure, and after the public review period, the Attorney General is required to prepare a circulating title and summary of the chief purposes and points of the proposed measure. The circulating title and summary cannot exceed 100 words and the Attorney General must also provide a unique numeric identifier for each proposed initiative measure.

In addition, the Attorney General is to provide a copy of the circulating title and summary and its unique numeric identifier to the proponents and to the Secretary of State within 15 days after receipt of the fiscal estimate or opinion prepared by the Department of Finance and the Legislative Analyst. Thereafter, the Secretary of State must notify, within one business day, the proponents and county elections official of each county of the official summary date and provide a copy of the circulating title and summary to each county elections official.

Section 9005 provides that the Attorney General, in preparing a circulating title and summary for a proposed initiative measure, is required to, in boldface print, include in the circulating title and summary either the estimate of the amount of any increase or decrease in revenues or costs to the state or local government, or an opinion as to whether or not a substantial net change in state or local finances would result if the proposed initiative is adopted.

The estimate is to be made jointly by the Department of Finance and the Legislative Analyst, who must deliver the estimate to the Attorney General so that he or she may include the estimate in the circulating title and summary prepared by him or her. A statement of fiscal impact prepared by the Legislative Analyst may be used by the Department of Finance and the Legislative Analyst in the preparation of the fiscal estimate or the opinion.

Section 9006 requires the Attorney General to prepare a circulating title and summary of the chief purpose and points of the proposed statute at issue. The circulating title and summary cannot exceed a total of 100 words and no fiscal analysis is included. The Attorney General must provide a copy of the circulating title and summary of the proposed referendum to the proponents and to the Secretary of State within 10 days after receipt of the proposed referendum.

Section 9007 specified that, immediately upon the preparation of the circulating title and summary of a proposed initiative measure, the Attorney General must transmit copies of the text of the measure and the circulating title and summary to the Senate and the Assembly. The appropriate committees of each house may hold public hearings on the subject of the measure. However, the Legislature cannot alter the measure or prevent it from appearing on the ballot.

Section 9008 specifies that every proposed initiative measure, prior to circulation, must have placed across the top of the petition in 12-point or larger roman boldface type, specified information. Section 9009 requires the heading of an initiative petition to be in substantially the form provided in this code section. Section 9012 allows any petition for a proposed initiative measure to be presented in sections, but each section must contain a full and correct copy of the circulating title and summary and text of the proposed measure. The text of the proposed measure cannot be printed in type smaller than 8 point.

Section 9013 specifies spacing on each page of every initiative petition. Section 9014 prohibits a petition for a proposed initiative from being circulated for signatures prior to the official summary date. A petition with signatures for a proposed initiative measure must be filed with the county elections official not later than 180 days from the official summary date, and a county elections official shall not accept a petition for the proposed initiative measure after that period.

Section 9015 prohibits any officers required by law to receive or file in their offices any initiative petition from doing so if the petition is not in conformity with this law. Section 9017 notes that, if for any reason, any initiative measure proposed by petition is not submitted to the voters at the next succeeding statewide election, that failure does not prevent its submission at a succeeding statewide election.

Section 9020 provides that petition sections must be designed so that each signer must personally affix his or her signature, printed name, residence address, and nae of city or community. Only a person who is a qualified registered voter at the time of signing the petition is entitled to sign it. The number of signatures attached to each section is determined at the pleasure of the person soliciting the signatures.

Section 9021 provides that a person may circulate a statewide initiative petition anywhere within the state. Each section of the petition must bear the name of a county or city and county, and only qualified registered voters of that county or city and county may sign that section.

Section 9022 requires each section to attach a declaration of the person soliciting the signatures and the circulator must certify to the content of the declaration as to its truth and correctness, and the circulator must state the date and the place of execution on the declaration immediately preceding his or her signature.

Section 9030 required each section of the petition to be filed with the elections official of the county or city and county in which it was circulated, but all sections circulated in any county or city and county are to be filed at the same time. Once filed, no petition section can be amended except by order of a court of competent jurisdiction.

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