Allows additional time to count and certify ballots

Proposition 71 on the June ballot would move the date approved ballot measures become effective to the fifth day after the California secretary of state certifies the election results. Currently, California law stipulates measures become effective the day after the election in which they are approved by voters unless the initiative spells out another start date.

Both chambers of the California Legislature voted without opposition to forward Prop 71 to the ballot for voter approval. Their reasons for doing so were because of the ongoing increase in numbers of voters casting votes by mail ballots. Under current law, vote-by-mail ballots can be counted by election officials if they were cast “by election day and received no later than three days after the election.”

In forwarding Prop 71 for voter approval, legislators reasoned that current law makes no sense, since in most cases it is not know for certain if a measure has passed until all ballots have been counted. Many vote-by-mail ballots have not been counted the day after the election and some have not even arrived at the county election office by that time.

As the Los Angeles Times notes in editorial support, “The potential for a law to be wrongly put into effect grows every year as more voters cast mail ballots and the count on the day after the election becomes less reliable.”

The nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office finds “little or no effect on state and local finances,” were Prop 71 to pass.

The measure amends Section 10 of Article II and Section 4 of Article XVIII of the California Constitution. Language includes, “An initiative statute or referendum approved by a majority of votes cast thereon takes effect on the fifth day after the Secretary of State files the statement of the vote for the election at which the measure is voted on.” The measure may provide that it becomes operative on a date even later than five days after the secretary of state files the statement of vote certifying the election.

In support of Prop 71, the Sacramento Bee notes, “Of all the initiatives [on the ballot], this is probably the most needed. Right now, under the state constitution, all propositions that appear to pass on election night automatically become law the next day. That may have been fine when the state was young, but absentee and provisional ballots and voting by mail can now add weeks to the time it takes to determine an election’s outcome. The result is a real potential for ballot measures to take effect and then turn out to be defeated and have to be rolled back.”

As an example of proposed changes in times propositions become effective, an initiative approved by voters on the Nov. 8, 2016, ballot became law on Nov. 9. Under Prop 71, that law would not have become effective until Dec. 17, 2016, allowing adequate time for counting all ballots.

Where new fees are assessed as part of a voter-approved measure, such as charges for plastic bags in supermarkets, the problem with existing law becomes clearer, according to proponents. Had the measure been found not to have passed days or weeks after it had gone into effect, what would have happened to the fees collected by supermarkets? Would they have had to have been refunded?

It is this apparent constitutional conundrum that Prop 71 seeks to rectify.