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Newsom Signs Bill to Change the Language on Referendums

Prop. 15 deadline

California Governor Gavin Newsom has signed a bill to change the language on select ballot initiatives to help voters. 

The law would simplify the language of referendums to assist voters in understanding what is being asked of them to vote for or against. 

What are the Details? 

A referendum allows voters to choose if they want to keep a law in place or get rid of it, oftentimes replacing it with a new idea. 

AB 421 wants to make the language on referendums clearer for voters. In previous elections, referendums included the choices “yes” and “no”, which could be misinterpreted. 

For example, in 2020, Proposition 25 wanted to replace a monetary bail system with one that is based on public risk. A “yes” vote would have replaced cash bail with a risk assessment system, while a “no” vote would keep cash bail in place. 

While the public overwhelmingly voted against Prop 25, it’s understandable why someone could think the “yes” and “no” language could make it confusing for voters. 

As a result, Governor Newsom signed AB 421 into law, which would replace those choices with “keep” or “overturn the law.” 

Additionally, it is now required that the top three financial backers of the referendum be listed on the ballot to increase transparency. 

The Original Bill 

While the version of AB 421 that Newsom has signed into law makes significant changes to the language and transparency of referendums, it is heavily stripped down from the original version of the bill. 

Rather than just focusing on language, it took aim at the signature-gathering process that’s required to get referendums on the ballot. 

Proposals that were amended out in the legislative process included: 

  • New registration and training requirements for signature-gatherers 
  • Financial disclosure for the top three backers of said referendum on the petition 
  • Referendum campaigns receive at least 10% of signatures through volunteers 

However, it’s unclear if Newsom would have approved of the listed proposals if they were still included in the final bill as he vetoed legislation in 2021 that would have banned paid signature gathering. 

Keep up with BOMA on the Frontline for the latest news in the Greater Los Angeles area. 

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