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How Could You Guys Not Pass Prop 34?

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Opinion: How Could You Guys Not Pass Prop 34?

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A view of the California State Prison at San Quentin May 15, 2009 in San Quentin, California.

The question is starting to get old.

More than 50 times in the last week, I've been asked by exasperated foreigners: how could you Californians have voted down Prop 34, the repeal of the death penalty?

Of course, I'm in Montevideo, Uruguay, this week at a conference on ballot initiatives and referendum that has drawn speakers from more than 35 countries. So there are a lot of foreigners around. And I'm one of only a handful of Americans present, and the only person living in California.

But the interest in Prop 34 is striking. The death penalty isn't much of an issue in the U.S.

Prop 34, after all, didn't get all that much attention in California; it was outshined by the competing tax measures, Prop 30 and Prop 38. 

But it appears to have been closely watched around the world. And from my conversations, it's apparent that non-Americans of all political ideologies were expecting Californians to vote yes on Prop 34 and repeal the death penalty.

That's because most of the democratic world opposes the death penalty and it isn't even close. When I explained that most Californians (including your lead blogger) have no particular moral problem to the death penalty, they simply can't believe that a person who otherwise seems intelligent should hold such views. Their question to me is simply: how could you?

I explain that many people vote no on most ballot initiatives, that the measure did some weird things with the money saved, and that Prop 34 didn't get as much attention as it might have observed. But that only seems to leave them more puzzled and frustrated.

I got the third degree about Prop 34 from a senior aide to the leftist government that is currently running Uruguay, and from a top conservative legislator whose party is seeking to unseat the government. And from a host of conference attendees from Europe, Latin America and Asia.

They are so firm -- and so convinced that no civilized society would have a death penalty -- that I've begun to wonder if the campaign for Prop 34 didn't miss an opportunity. Ads that showed the received opinion of people around the world are an unusual strategy for a ballot initiative campaign, but there is real power in hearing from dozens of people, in every conceivable accent in which English can be spoken, that you're a total idiot for living in a place that still has a death penalty.

And I have new reason for giving the repeal of the death penalty new consideration: so that I don't have to hear about the subject whenever I travel overseas.

Lead Prop Zero blogger Joe Mathews is California editor at Zocalo Public Square, a fellow at Arizona State University’s Center for Social Cohesion, and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (University of California, 2010).

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Related Topics Opinion, Death Penalty, Repeal, Prop 34
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