Capitol Alert

California votes to keep death penalty

This Sept. 21, 2010, file photo shows the death chamber at San Quentin State Prison in San Quentin, Calif. California voters narrowly approved a ballot measure to speed up the death penalty process while rejecting a measure to repeal the death penalty.
This Sept. 21, 2010, file photo shows the death chamber at San Quentin State Prison in San Quentin, Calif. California voters narrowly approved a ballot measure to speed up the death penalty process while rejecting a measure to repeal the death penalty.

California voters reaffirmed their backing for capital punishment Tuesday, rejecting a ballot measure that would have repealed the death penalty.

Proposition 66, which would accelerate the death penalties appeals process, holds a narrow lead in unofficial results.

Proposition 62 would have eliminated the death penalty and replaced it with life in prison without the possibility of parole, with the yes-on-62 campaign getting large donations from Netflix CEO Reed Hastings and wealthy Democratic activist Tom Steyer, as well as others. It failed with 46.1 percent of the vote, according to unofficial results Wednesday.

Proposition 66, backed by law enforcement unions and others, would expedite executions by adding lawyers to handle death-penalty cases and imposing time limits for inmates’ appeals. As of Wednesday morning, 50.9 percent of voters backed the measure.

“The outcome of the election does not change the fact that California’s death penalty is broken beyond repair and remains a sentence ‘in name only,’ yes-on-62 spokesman Jacob Hay said in a statement Wednesday. “The high costs will continue to add up, the backlog of cases will continue to mount and the stories of injustice will continue to be heard. We are confident California’s failed death penalty will one day come to an end, either from voters or through the courts.”

In the nearly four decades since California voters reinstated the death penalty, only 13 inmates have been put to death, with the last execution in 2006. The state’s death row, meanwhile, continues to swell, with almost 750 inmates awaiting death.

The yes-on-66, no-on-62 effort got a significant lift late last month when the state’s correctional officers union announced it would tap its $6.4 million warchest for the campaign.

For death penalty opponents, Proposition 62’s defeat marked the second time in four years that voters have rebuffed a proposal to end capital punishment in the nation’s largest state. In 2012, Proposition 34 failed after receiving 48 percent of the vote – almost two percentage points above Proposition’s 62’s vote count Wednesday morning.

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