The death penalty is a highly debated topic in modern American politics, in part because it is permanent, so if they are proven to be innocent later it’s impossible to reverse their punishment. But is it really the government’s right to take a life, even if those convicted may have done terrible things?
That is the question California’s voters need to answer on the 2016 state ballot. Despite the fact that there are two props addressing the death penalty on the ballot — Props 62 and 66 — they are vastly different from each other.
Prop 62, if passed, would remove the death penalty in California and replace it with life in prison with no chance of parole as the harshest possible punishment. The prop would also remove any inmates on death row, immediately stopping all planned executions. This is not the first time that California has attempted to remove capital punishment; it was most recently unsuccessful at repealing the death penalty in the 2012 election, losing the majority vote by only two percent.
Arguments for the removal of the death penalty have existed since 1967, when the United States Supreme Court ruled it to be unconstitutional and a form of “cruel and unusual punishment.” Since then, the laws have gone back and forth between opposing and supporting the death penalty, both on the state and national level, reversing the Supreme Court’s decision.
On the other hand, Prop 66 does not remove the death penalty, but actually reduces the time it takes to go into effect, resolving one of the biggest complaints with the current system. Under current legislation, the actual punishment of death can be put off for years, even decades, by appealing the court’s decision. Prop 66 serves to considerably speed up the appeal process, reducing the time it takes to process appeals by establishing a Supreme Court specifically for this purpose, and even limiting the amount of appeals possible per trial.
These two Props are contradictory, yet unlike most elections, it is possible to vote yes on both props. If both bills are passed, it has been decided that the prop with more “yes” votes will supercede the other. This would go against traditional elections, making it possible to have a Prop win the majority vote, but still not be passed.
There has been strong opposition from both sides, with many political officials and organizations backing the different Props. Of the organizations supporting the death penalty, some of the biggest are the California District Attorney’s Association and Firefighter’s Association as well as over 30 county police organizations in California. The organizations that back the removal of the death penalty include the California League of Women Voters, the California Nurses and Teachers Association and the Equal Justice Society.
While many political parties and organizations have already chosen sides, it is ultimately up to the voters of California to decide whether or not to keep the death penalty: a life or death decision for the countless criminals on death row.