Why Do Dead Measures Stay on the Ballot?


California's system of direct democracy needs a doctor who can perform assisted suicides.

In other words, there needs to be some way to take dead measures off the ballot.

What's a "dead measure?" An initiative or referendum whose supporters have abandoned it.

Measures have died well before elections on a number of occasions; the usual circumstances are that, once an initiative qualifies for the ballot, the legislature and governor give the initiative sponsor what they want via legislation or via deal for a different ballot measure.

The problem is that, under California's rules, there's no way to remove a measure that's been qualified via signatures. The legislature can remove or postpone constitutional amendments -- as it just did with a massive water bond -- but that power applies only to measure that the legislature itself placed on the ballot.

This November's ballot already has one such dead measure.

Proposition 40 was a referendum qualified -- foolishly -- by California Republicans to seek to overturn state senate districts drawn by the redistricting commission. It was made effectively dead by the California Supreme Court, which refused to block the new districts even after the referendum qualified.

The court also seemed to indicate it would draw lines similar to the commission's lines even if a referendum to reverse the districts were approved.

So this week, the backers of the referendum declared their own measure dead, explaining that they wouldn't run a campaign for it or raise money for it. But they didn't take it off the ballot because they couldn't.

That's dumb.

The state needs a rule that permits a measure to be removed from the ballot when an initiative or referendum's proponent and the legislature agree that it should be removed.

Other states have similar rules in place that allow them to take dead measures off life support. Colorado, in particularly, has removed multiple measures from ballots in this way in recent years.

California's ballots are already long enough, just with the live measures.

Lead Prop Zero blogger Joe Mathews is California editor at Zocalo Public Square, a fellow at Arizona State University’s Center for Social Cohesion, and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (University of California, 2010).

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