Race and Civil Rights

These three measures, all placed on the ballot by the Legislature, had been introduced before protests against racism and police brutality swept the country. But as California lawmakers look for ways to play a role in the national debate about institutional barriers to equity and the meaning of citizenship, many legislators see these as  particularly potent causes. 

Prop. 16: Ending the ban on affirmative action 

Who put it there: The Legislature, via a bill by San Diego Democrat Assemblymember Shirley Weber

Type: Constitutional amendment

What it would do: Allow schools and public agencies to take race and other immutable characteristics into account when making admission, hiring or contracting decisions. 

In 1996 California voters passed Proposition 209, a constitutional amendment banning affirmative action at state institutions. The result was an immediate drop in Black and Latino enrollment at the state’s elite public universities. Some civil rights organizations have been trying to repeal Prop. 209 ever since.

Each of those attempts has been stymied by a coalition of Republicans, moderate Democrats and some progressive legislators who represent districts with large Asian American voting populations. This year, as in previous years, some of the most vocal and persistent opponents of the effort to reintroduce affirmative action have been Chinese-American political activists. They argue that boosting enrollment of students from underrepresented racial groups would come at the expense of “overrepresented” Asian American students.  

Prop. 17: Restoring the right to vote to people on parole

Who put it there: The Legislature, via a bill by Sacramento Democrat Assemblymember Kevin McCarty.

Type: Constitutional amendment

What it would do: Allow Californians who are currently on parole to vote

In 1974, California voters passed a ballot measure giving people who have committed felonies the right to vote once they complete their sentences and are no longer on parole. 

Thanks to that law, there are some 40,000 Californians who are not in prison but unable to legally cast a ballot. But as with any criminal justice debate, this is also one about race. According to an estimate from 2016, two thirds of people on parole in the state are Latino or Black.

Prop. 18: Letting (some) 17 year olds vote (some of the time)

Who put it there: The Legislature, with a bill introduced by San Mateo Democrat Assemblymember Kevin Mullin.

Type: Constitutional amendment

What it would do: Allow 17-year-old U.S. citizens to vote in a primary and special election as long as they will turn 18 by the subsequent general election.

California Democrats have been on a decade-long tear increasing voting access. Same-day voter registration, automatic registration at the DMV and pre-registration of 16- and 17-year-olds are among the recent pro-vote innovations to come out of the Capitol.

Letting people under 18 vote would be yet another extension. Already 23 states let 17- year-olds vote in certain circumstances. 

Democratic legislators have tried to do this six times before; this is the first to make the ballot.