As if deciding a presidential election this fall were not enough, California voters are in a unique and highly unprecedented position to choose life or death. No, this is not an abortion debate. This is about condemned prisoners--will executions begin again? Or will they end forever?
Although California has the death penalty, no executions have taken place in the last decade, despite San Quentin having a brand new death chamber. The Los Angeles Times notes that, of the 747 men currently on death row, about a dozen have exhausted their appeals. If California voters decide to keep the death penalty, they could be among the first executions scheduled.
This is not the first time that voters have been given a choice on the death penalty. In 2012, the voters went to the polls to determine whether the death penalty should be repealed. They voted to keep it. This is the first time opposing positions have been placed on the ballot simultaneously.
Voters can chose to support Proposition 62 which would commute all death sentences to life without parole; or they may choose Proposition 66 which would lead to speedier executions by limiting appeals, and limiting challenged to execution methods. In addition, Proposition 66 would allow the state of California to house death-row inmates in prisons throughout the state; currently, all condemned inmates are housed at San Quentin.
What will it mean?
If both propositions pass (more than 50 percent vote to enact the proposition), the one receiving the most votes would become law. Thus, if the death penalty is repealed, death-row inmates would be re-integrated into the general prison population--currently they are housed in solitary confinement.
If the death-penalty is upheld by the voters, the 12 men in San Quentin without appeals may see execution dates set quickly.