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California Independents Support Ending The Death Penalty

by Genevieve Santiago, published

In polls, it appears that California independents support ending the death penalty. Proposition 34, which aims to repeal the death penalty in California, will be on the November ballot.

Life without the possibility of parole would become the new maximum sentence, and would apply to current death row inmates. In addition, the initiative would require inmates with the maximum sentence to work and use their earnings towards their victims’ restitution. A SAFE California fund would be established, and over the course of 3 years, the fund would receive $100 million to assist with the state’s unsolved homicide and rape cases.

Party preferences are transforming, and this may incur changes in California's policies. This August, the Public Policy Institute of California found that 21.3% of voters identified as Independents in the June primary. Since 1992, the number of Independents has grown by 10.3%, reaching an all-time high for the state. As Independents have increased, the number of registered Democrats and Republicans has declined over the past 10 years.

Democrats and Independents Support Ending The Death Penalty

On Tuesday, the Field Poll revealed that support for Prop. 34 is divided by party preference. 54% of Independents and 50% of Democrats favored its passage, whereas only 23% of Republicans did. In a state where 43.4% of  voters are registered Democrat, 30.2% are Republican, and 21.3% are Independent, Prop. 34’s passage will not be an easy call.

This is good news for independent voters. Often characterized as middle-of-the-road or indifferent, independent voters seem to be eroding that notion on this particular issue. The majority of independent voters support Prop 34, and as the elections draw closer, voter education on the proposition could significantly sway the November results.

The SAFE California Campaign (YES on 34) proposes that the initiative’s passage would save the state $130 million per year. Their drive behind the proposition focuses on current death penalty costs, holding prisoners accountable by employing them, and using state facility closures (3 agencies that deal with death penalty appeals) to off-set the $100 million over 3 years.

Financial strains are not the only concerns of supporters. Communications Director at the Innocence Project, Paul Cates commented:

“There are simply too many flaws in this system. As we’ve seen through the DNA exoneration, 17 people have served on death row who were exonerated by DNA evidence… We look at this from the perspective of the likelihood that someone who is innocent will be executed, and that’s why we have the position that we do.”

In opposition to the initiative, Californians for Justice and Public Safety counter the SAFE California Campaign’s efforts. Opponents argue that the YES camp has inflated death penalty costs and argue, “Eliminating the death penalty will not eliminate the fixed costs of the court system.” Instead, opponents have adopted the slogan, “Mend It Don’t End It” to promote a series of reforms.

Opponent, and KlaasKids founder, Marc Klaas stated:

"Yes on 34 people are pretty clever. They have created the environment that they are now using to overturn the death penalty… When you put these guys in prison with life without the possibility of parole, you know as well as I do there are going to be people that say that life without the possibility of parole is cruel and unusual punishment. Nobody should be able to live without hope, and someone living in that circumstance has no hope. That will then be an effort to give everybody yet another chance.”

In a predominantly “blue” state, where Independents align closer to the Democratic Party, Prop 34 certainly has a chance at passage this November.

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