John Myers
May 15, 2016

California voters this fall will likely wade through the longest list of state propositions since Bill Clinton was president, a sizable batch of proposed laws that is likely to spark a record amount of campaign spending.

A review of election records and interviews with almost a dozen political consultants confirms that as many as 18 propositions — from legalizing marijuana to redirecting the proceeds of a fee on paper bags — will land on the Nov. 8 statewide ballot.

“I think it’s overwhelming,” said Cristina Uribe, state director of the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center, a national nonprofit that advocates for politically progressive ballot measures.

This week marks an unofficial but closely watched deadline for backers of the fall’s bumper crop of propositions. Campaigns will submit the final voter signatures gathered for initiatives, and elections officials will then need several weeks to verify those signatures. Secretary of State Alex Padilla must certify the final list by June 30.

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There are a number of reasons for the glut of proposals, including a 2011 law that moved all ballot initiatives to November elections.

The 18 measures have the political or financial resources to make it to the ballot, but the final number depends on what happens over the next six weeks. The initiative process was loosened in 2014 for proponents to withdraw a fully vetted measure even after it earned a spot on the ballot.

It was a change designed to encourage compromise, but one that could also mean some of the proposals are little more than political bargaining chips.

“It injects a whole new level — a higher level — of negotiation, pressure and threats,” said David Townsend, a longtime Democratic political consultant.

Of the 18 potential measures, seven have already earned a place on the November ballot. Nine more are in the process of signature verification and legislators are likely to craft the final proposal in the next few weeks.

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One of the most prominent proposals won’t finish its signature drive until late this week: Gov. Jerry Brown’s measure to revamp prison parole and juvenile justice laws.

“We’re cautiously optimistic,” said Dan Newman, a spokesman for Brown’s campaign.

Should the governor’s team complete its work in time — and assuming the California Supreme Court removes a legal obstacle to his initiative — it will be the final piece of a complex puzzle of voter choices.

“It’s a really wide and varying ballot,” said Fiona Hutton, a Los Angeles public affairs strategist who has worked on a number of statewide campaigns. “A lot of these are arcane policy questions.”

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