California Resources

This State Guide provides an in-depth look at sources of law within the state of California.

Constitution: Initiatives, Referenda & Propositions

The constitution of California can be amended or revised through:

  1. Legislative proposal. This method requires a roll call vote in the Legislature with two-thirds of the members of each house concurring;
  2. Convention to revise constitution. To convene a constitutional convention also requires a roll call vote in the Legislature with two-thirds of each house's membership concurring. Any amendment proposed by the convention may then be submitted to the voters at a general election; or
  3. Initiative. The electors may amend the Constitution by initiative.
    • To be included on the ballot a Constitutional amendment initiative requires a petition to be submitted to the Secretary of State with certified signatures of 8-percent of the total vote for all candidates for Governor at the most recent gubernatorial election.
    • An Initiative Statue requires 5-percent of the total vote for all candidates for Governor at the most recent gubernatorial election.
    • If the signature requirements are met, the initiative shall then be placed on the next general election ballot held at least 131 days after its qualification or at any special statewide election held prior to that general election. Cal. Const. art. II, § 8(b).

For a summary of the Initiative process see How to Qualify an Initiative on the Secretary of State web site. The web page includes a copy of Statewide Initiative Guide, a step-by-step information on the statewide initiative process.

A majority of electors must vote to approve the proposed amendments or revisions. If successful, the changes will take effect the fifth day after the Secretary of State files the statement of the vote for th election unless the language of the amendment/revision states otherwise. If conflicting measure are approved at the same election, then the provisions of the measure reciving the highest affirmative vote shall prevail. Cal. Const. art. IVII, §§ 1-4.

What is the Difference Between an Initiative, a Referendum and a Proposition?

The initiative is the process that allows the electors to propose legislation and compel the legislature or the full electorate to vote on the measure. A referendum is the power of the electors to approve or reject all or parts of certain types of statutes. Both the initiative and the referendum process are methods of direct democracy. Propositions are the proposed legislation for either the initiative or the referendum.

As excerpted from Legal Research in California (5th ed. 2004)

"the people of California may directly add, repeal, or amend provision of the California Constitution or statutes," through ballot propositions. The ballot propositions "are prosed either by the Legislature or by citizens."

"Propositions directly from the people are proposed by petitions circulated for the [required] number of voter signatures. Propositions from the Legislature are adopted like other legislative measures." Propositions "propose either bond measures, constitutional amendments, or statutes that change existing statutes previously approved by initiative." Referenda are "propositions that allow the people to approve or reject legislative enactments." Initiatives are "propositions that propose legislative or constitutional changes." p.163.

The Initiative and Referendum Institute, a non-profit educational organization that provides explanation of the initiative and referendum, offer three general fact sheets:

  1. What are Ballot Propositions, Initiatives, and Referendums
  2. The History of Initiative and Referendum in the United States
  3. State by State List of Initiatives and Referendum Provisions.

as well as a California specific fact sheet.

L. Tobe Liebert, in Researching California Ballot Measures, 90 Law Libr. J. 27, explains the ballot measure process with information on locating documents, legislative history and legal challenges to ballot measures. Research tools and publications are provided in appendices.

Related Resources

Further Readings

  • In print: The Initiative and Referendum in California: 1898-1998. Call Number: Stacks JF495.C2 A45 2000. The author provides a detailed, analytic history of direct legislation (the initiative and referendum) in California from its origins in the late nineteenth century to the present day. The monograph contains tables throughout the text to illustrate aspects of the author‰s detailed analysis of the history of direct legislation in California.  Appendix A is a chronological compilation of all the direct legislation measures on California ballots from 1912-1998.
  • In print: Law Making by Initiative: Issues, Options and Comparisons. Call Number: Stacks KF4881 .D83 1998. A description of the history of the initiative process and the major issues that have arisen during its increased use. The discussion covers the use of the initiative in the 24 states (including California) and the District of Columbia, as well as its use in other countries. The author uses charts and tables to compare the major features of the initiative process.