A measure to repeal California's death penalty was trailing early Wednesday, while voters were approving a reform of the state's "three-strikes" law.
With 91 percent of the vote counted, voters were rejecting Proposition 34 by a margin of 53 percent to 47 percent.
The measure would replace the death penalty with life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Law enforcement groups had lobbied hard against the measure, while Gov. Jerry Brown, a death penalty opponent, had remained noncommittal until Tuesday, when he revealed that he had voted for the measure.
The three-strikes measure, Proposition 36, was faring much better, with 69 percent of voters casting their ballots in favor of changing the law.
Both measures were the products of petition drives that evolved from years of efforts aimed at changing the face of California's criminal justice system.
On the surface, Proposition 34 appeared to pose the most dramatic change ending the death penalty in the state and converting all death sentences to life without possibility of parole.
No inmate has been put to death in the state since 2006, and only 13 have been executed in the years since the death penalty was reinstated in California in 1978.
Much of the delay in executing any of the more than 725 inmates on death row stemmed from court fights by the American Civil Liberties Union, the organization that led the effort to abolish capital punishment.
After a failed attempt to get legislators to scrap the death penalty in 2011, the ACLU turned to the voters this year with the help of well-heeled donors in Hollywood and Silicon Valley.
Their campaign followed a new script, focusing opposition to the death penalty on pocketbook rather than moral issues.
They touted a study that showed more than $4 billion had been spent on the death penalty since 1978, and claimed that the state spends $137 million a year on death row inmates and their court cases.
They hoped to capitalize on public sentiment elsewhere against the death penalty, and noted that 17 other states do not have capital punishment.
By eliminating the death penalty, they argued, tens of millions of dollars could be saved annually and funneled into investigating other unsolved crimes.
Supporters called their effort the SAFE California Campaign, with the acronym standing for "Savings, Accountability, Full Enforcement." The measure contained a provision to divert $100 million from the state's general fund over the next four years to provide grants to local law enforcement agencies.
But opponents, including prosecutors, law enforcement groups and victims rights organizations, blasted the measure and called the projected cost savings a fantasy aimed at taking advantage of public disgust over the state's economic woes.
They argued that the slow pace of executions in California where some inmates have been on death row for decades is caused by the very groups now trying to eliminate the punishment.
Opponents of Proposition 34 also contended many of the legal issues causing execution delays have been addressed and said remaining impediments to moving forward could be dealt with quickly by the state.
In contrast, Proposition 36 sought to tweak rather than eliminate California's three-strikes law, the toughest sentencing provision in the nation.
The measure was designed to refine the original law passed overwhelmingly by voters in 1994 and reaffirmed in a 2004 vote that rejected an attempt to weaken the law.
The law allows for 25 years-to-life terms for offenders convicted of a third felony, regardless of how minor the third strike is, if their previous two convictions were serious or violent.
Proposition 36 proposed changing the law to require the third strike to stem from a serious or violent crime, with some exceptions. Nothing less than a residential burglary would count as a strike.
Under the measure, about 3,000 inmates sentenced under the law could seek resentencing hearings, and the Legislative Analyst's Office estimated savings from releasing many of them could total $70 million to $90 million annually.