SAN DIEGO (KSWB) — A California bill to change the language on ballots for state referendums in order to make it clear what voters are deciding with their choice was signed into law on Friday by Gov. Gavin Newsom.
Assembly Bill 421, which was introduced by Assemblymember Isaac Bryan, originally sought to make major changes to the state’s referendum process, which is used to overturn laws passed by legislators.
Among the changes it proposed included requirements for those out collecting signatures for these measures to register and receive training with the Secretary of State, and to disclose if they are volunteers or paid. It would also implement a three-year ban if someone violates the law.
However, most of the original provisions were scrapped by legislators as it was amended. The version of the bill that was signed into law Friday focused on one change: changing the options for referendums from “yes” and “no” to “keep the law” and “overturn the law.”
The new language is expected to take effect next year, just in time for the 2024 ballot. It will not impact language for local referendum measures, according to state officials.
Puzzling language used for state referendums have been a long-standing issue for voters. Under current law, voters are required to vote “yes” to oppose repealing the law. On the other hand, a “no” vote means that they support the referendum.
Confusion over the counterintuitive choices were particularly evident with the 2008 ballot referendum Proposition 8, which proposed a state constitutional amendment that would ban gay marriage.
Voting “no” on the measure meant voting “yes” on gay marriage, while voting “yes” meant disallowing gay marriage. Both supporters and opponents of the referendum expressed concern at the time that those who supported their side would vote the wrong way.
Proposition 8 ultimately passed with 52% of the vote, outlawing gay marriage until the 2012 Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges that legalized it nationwide.
“AB 421 cuts through the confusion by replacing ‘yes’ and ‘no’ with a simple ‘keep the law’ and ‘overturn the law,’ helping voters better understand the ballot and make informed decisions,” the League of Women Voters of California wrote in support of the bill.
There are already two referendums that have qualified for the 2024 ballot.
The first is a measure introduced by the fast food industry that would overturn the law that created a state council overseeing wages and other workplace standards. The second measure, sponsored by the oil and gas industry, is looking to overturn a ban on new wells within a 3,200 feet of homes, schools, parks and healthcare facilities among other places.
The bill received strong bipartisan support for the proposed changes to help clarify referendum language, according to a June poll conducted by UC Berkley. More than eight in 10 voters expressed support for the changes, including 84% of Democrats, 81% of Republicans and 75% of voters without a party preference.
“Now is the time to re-empower everyday voters choosing to participate in our democracy,” Bryan wrote of his AB 214. “Today, the participatory democracy system is being subverted and weaponized against the collective decision making authority of everyday Californians.”