As California’s Prop. 20 Rejected, Proponent Blames Measure’s Wording

November 9, 2020 Updated: November 10, 2020

SANTA CLARA, Calif.—A majority of California voters rejected Proposition 20, a measure that would restrict early parole, recategorize crimes, and require DNA collection for some misdemeanors.

As of Nov. 9, preliminary results showed 62.2 percent were against it, and 37.8 percent for it.

“While this is a disappointing outcome, it should in no way be interpreted as Californians rejecting Prop. 20’s sound public safety policies—after all, at least 4.25 million California voters cast their votes in favor of the initiative,” said Nina Salarno Besselman, president of Crime Victims United, in an email statement to The Epoch Times.

“It’s our heartfelt belief that the results have much more to do with many voters being confused by the Attorney General’s poorly worded and misleading election materials—despite our best efforts to correct them though the legal means available to us,” she said.

Several lawsuits were filed against California’s Attorney General Xavier Becerra earlier this year over allegedly biased wording in the writing of ballot measure summaries and titles. The lawsuits claim that the responsibility for writing these summaries used to educate voters should be in the hands of a nonpartisan official instead of the attorney general. 

Becerra’s office told The Epoch Times in August that court rulings had decided in Becerra’s favor in previous cases and that Becerra takes his “responsibility seriously.”

The appellate court opinion in one of those cases stated: “If reasonable minds may differ as to its sufficiency, the title and summary prepared by the Attorney General must be upheld … because ‘all legitimate presumptions should be indulged in favor of the propriety of the attorney-general’s actions.’

“Only in a ‘clear case’ should a title and summary prepared by the Attorney General be held insufficient.”

The official summary of Proposition 20 emphasizes restrictions on parole for nonviolent offenders and lists many of the costs expected to be incurred, including “increased state and local correctional costs likely in the tens of millions of dollars annually, primarily related to increases in penalties for certain theft-related crimes and the changes to the nonviolent offender release consideration process.”

Meanwhile proponents have emphasized punishment for repeat offenders, following a spate of shoplifting operations they say have sprung up because penalties are too light.

“We want the first-time offenders to be rehabilitated and get back into society and have a productive life,” Ken Lomba, president of the San Francisco Deputy Sheriffs Association, said during a Zoom conference call on Sept. 4. “But for the people that are repeatedly violating the law knowingly—the professionals, the crime rings—there has to be an escalation of consequences.”

Proponents also emphasize that crimes classified as nonviolent currently include solicitation to commit murder, rape of an unconscious person, and child trafficking. They argue these should be classified as “violent” to make it harder for dangerous criminals to reenter society before serving a full sentence. 

They also argue that DNA collection from theft and drug offenses has helped police solve serious crimes, and should be allowed.

These kinds of arguments in favor of the proposition were not made clear to voters in the summary, according to Besselman. 

The Epoch Times reached out to several groups opposed to Proposition 20 to hear their response to the vote, but did not receive replies as of press deadline.

According to a “No on Prop. 20” website, “Proposition 20 will roll back effective criminal justice reforms. …  It wastes tens of millions of taxpayer dollars on prisons while cutting the rehabilitation programs we know work—that makes us all less safe.”

The Epoch Times reporter Brad Jones contributed to this report.