Editor's Note: This article is updated to reflect election results Nov. 3, 2020. See results in each proposition section below.
In an unusual election year, there’s at least one thing that seemed familiar to Californians.
Voters in the nation’s most populous state again saw a slate of ballot propositions covering an array of issues.
One would repeal a ban on considering race and gender in hiring and admissions decisions. Another addresses the long simmering battle over California’s commercial property tax rules. Two propose expanding the vote, and another is meant to settle an expensive fight over workplace rules in the gig economy. You’ll also be asked to decide on dialysis center staffing requirements, stem cell funding, rent control and more.
Eight of the yes-no measures qualified for the Nov. 3 election by gaining enough petition signatures. The others were added by lawmakers. They’ll appear as props 14 through 25 on the ballot.
Scroll down for brief summaries of all 12 props on the November ballot in California. Click here for official language from the California Secretary of State office.
Why Do the Props Start at 14?
The November ballot propositions are numbered 14 through 25 instead of 1 through 12 because California’s proposition number count resets to No. 1 in 10-year cycles. Initially, ballot props started with No. 1 for each election, but that raised the specter of voter confusion over well-known ballot propositions — like 1978's Prop 13 — and a measure carrying the same number in another election. The state then tried a numbering system that continued where the previous election left off, resulting in triple-digit prop numbers. The current numbering system was adopted in 1998.
Prop 14: Borrowing for Stem Cell Research
This is just one of a few that might sound familiar. That’s because in 2004, voters approved borrowing $3 billion to fund a state program of stem cell research. Now, that money — used for clinical trials and projects — is about to run out. Supporters of the original measure are asking for the approval of $5.5 billion in government bonds.
Approval of the 2004 ballot measure also created the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine. The November measure includes some rules for how that organization spends research funds, including a requirement to improve patient access to treatments.
Prop 15: Commercial Property Tax Revision
This complex measure asks voters to decide on a revision to tax rules that have been around since Prop 13 — THE Prop 13 — passed in 1978. Among the most famous California ballot measures, Prop 13 established a limit on the tax rate for real estate — a law that has remained untouched by lawmakers for more than four decades.
Prop 15 would result in split-roll taxes, creating new rules for commercial and industrial property taxes without changing existing residential property tax mandates. Under Prop 15, some commercial properties would be taxed based on their market value instead of the amount for which they were purchased. That means increased tax revenue to fund schools and local governments, but it’s also asking some businesses to pay more to operate in California. Along with residential properties, there are few other exemptions, including agriculture properties and owners of commercial and industrial properties with a combined value of $3 million or less.
Prop 16: Lifting the Ban on Affirmative Action
One of the propositions placed on the ballot by lawmakers, Prop 16 would mark a return to affirmative action in California after it was banned in 1996 when voters approved Prop 209. The outcome of Prop 16 would have significant ramifications for the state’s colleges and universities. Under current law, the state is prohibited from considering race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting. The mandate of Prop 209 has long been a target of civil rights activists. Prop 16 was placed on the ballot after a contentious debate among lawmakers this summer.
Prop 17: Allowing Parolees to Vote
One of two measures involving expanding the vote, this one would allow people on parole to vote. Rules vary by state, but parolees — people who have been released from prison before a sentence ends — cannot vote in California until their term of parole is over. Prop 17 would lift that restriction. This is another measure placed on the ballot by the Legislature
Prop 18: Allowing Some 17-Year-Olds to Vote
If this prop passes, 17-year-olds would be allowed to register and vote in a primary election if they turn 18 by the time of the subsequent general election.
For example, if you were 17 at the time of the March primary in California, but turned 18 before the Nov. 3 election, you would have been able to vote in the March primary under Prop 18. Under current law, a Californian whose 18th birthday fell after the March primary missed out on an opportunity to choose from a larger field of candidates.
Prop 19: Property Tax Breaks
This measure was the last one to make the ballot for the November election, and it has several elements to consider. Prop 19 would allow homeowners who are 55 or older, wildfire disaster victims or disabled to keep their property tax at the same level or a reduced rate when they buy a new home. That’s similar to what was proposed in a 2018 ballot measure, but this time around it comes with a rule for Californians who inherit a home from their parents or grandparents. The children or grandchildren would only be allowed to keep the low property tax level if the home is their primary residence.
Prop 20: Restrictions on Parole
Prop 20 asks Californians to make yet another decision on parole law. This one limits some sentence reductions that stemmed from props 47 (2014) and 57 (2016). Some theft crimes currently charged only as misdemeanors could be charged as felonies. In fact, it creates two new crimes — serial theft and organized retail theft — that carry jail sentences.
Prop 20 also expands the list of offenses that would disqualify an inmate from the parole program. People convicted of misdemeanor drug, theft and domestic violence crimes would be required to submit DNA samples.
Prop 21: Rent Control
Voters said ‘No’ to a rent control measure in 2018, but its supporters are trying again in November with a scaled down version that allows local governments to place rent control only on residential properties that are more than 15 years old. Some single-family homes are exempt. The prop also allows local government to place limits on increases when a new renter moves into a property.
Prop 22: Workplace Rules for Gig Workers
This ballot box battle has been more than a year in the making, bringing together app-based ride services Uber and Lyft in a unified response to one of the most controversial bills of the 2019 Legislative session. When it passed last year, Assembly Bill 5 established criteria that essentially made it more difficult for app-based companies to classify workers as independent contractors instead of employees. In May, the state sued Uber and Lyft, alleging they misclassified drivers as independent contractors under the new labor law.
Fast forward a few months, and voters are being asked to consider Prop 22. It basically changes the classification rules for the gig economy and designates drivers as independent contractors, who are not entitled under state law to the same protections afforded to employees, like minimum wage, overtime and worker’s comp. But Prop 22 includes a mandate that app-based drivers are provided with benefits like minimum compensation, healthcare subsidies, vehicle insurance and training.
Update (Oct. 23): A California appeals court has upheld an order requiring Uber and Lyft to treat their California drivers as employees instead of independent contractors.
Prop 23: Kidney Dialysis Clinics
Again, you might have that feeling of Election Day deja vu. Californians rejected a set of dialysis clinic rules outlined in a bitterly contested November 2018 ballot prop that was one of the most expensive measures in state history, due in large part to its opposition funding. The new measure, placed on the ballot by a union representing healthcare workers, requires clinics to have at least one licensed physician present during operating hours. It also requires clinics to report infection data to state and federal governments and prohibits clinics from discriminating against patients based on how they’re paying for care — whether through private insurance or a government-funded program./
Prop 24: Consumer Privacy Rules
Prop 24 expands on a consumer privacy law that went into effect at the start of 2020. Considered the strongest set of rules in the nation, that law expanded consumer protections and required businesses to tell people whether they’re information is being collected and sold. If so, consumers can ask that the information be deleted.
Prop 24 takes consumer rights further. It affords consumers more rights to prevent the sharing of their personal information and limits businesses’ use of sensitive personal information like geolocation, race, ethnicity, religion, genetic data, union membership, certain sexual orientation and health information. It also limits the amount of time that information can be retained and triples the maximum penalties for violations involving consumers under 16. It would establish the California Privacy Protection Agency to deal with enforcement and implementation.
Prop 25: Cash Bail Referendum
Voters are asked to approve or reject a law passed by lawmakers with Prop 25. That law abolished cash bail in California.
A Yes vote means you’re approving the law to end cash bail. A No vote means you’re rejecting the law and backing the system in place.
The law has basically been on hold after the bail industry gathered enough signatures on a referendum. The law bans the practice of offering cash to people who cannot afford to pay for early release from custody. Instead, a judge would decide who can be released before trial.