Frequently Asked Questions About How to Enact Proportional Representation Elections for the California State Legislature

Q: How can we enact Proportional Representation elections for the California State Legislature?

A: Like recent changes to establish a citizens redistricting commission and the top two primary, this change would require voter approval of a statewide constitutional amendment ballot measure in a November general election. 

Such a statewide ballot measure could be put on the ballot one of two ways – either the state legislature could place the measure on the ballot by a 2/3 vote in each house; or the measure could qualify for the ballot via the signature-gathering process.

In either case, approval it would require a simple majority vote of the people in a general election.

(How many signatures to qualify a constitutional amendment? Petitions proposing initiative constitutional amendments must be signed by registered voters, equal to at least 8% of the total votes cast for Governor at the last gubernatorial election. (Cal.Const., art. II, § 8(b); Elections Code § 9035). The total number of signatures required for such petitions is currently 585,407 and will change for 2019-2022 based on how many people vote for governor in 2018.)

Q: If a plan to enact proportional representation for the California State Legislature involved increasing the size of the state legislature, how could that occur?

A. If the size of the legislature were to be increased, it would be part of the Constitutional amendment placed on the ballot.

 Q: What about the spending caps on aggregate spending for the state legislature, that were mandated in Proposition 140 and now make up Article 4, Section 7.5 of the California Constitution? Wouldn’t this restrict an increase in the size of the legislature, because more legislators would mean more salaries — and thus a breaking of the cap?  

A. Not necessarily.  The aggregate spending cap covers spending for the Senate, the Assembly and joint expenses including the Legislative Analyst’s Office and Legislative Counsel. Expenses for individual legislators themselves are only a portion of that total.

More than half of the people who work in the Capitol do jobs — Legislative Analyst, Legislative Counsel, tech support, sergeants, etc. — that wouldn’t be significantly changed with a larger legislature. Many others work for committees, party caucuses, legislative leadership. Some of these positions would disappear with a unicameral legislature with proportional representation, which is proposed by the Feinstein for Secretary of State campaign.  European parliamentary groups also provide many positive examples as to how shared staffing works under proportional representation systems.

Regarding the legislators salaries and compensation, they are the highest in the nation. So after everything else, there is room to adjust them under the Proposition 140 caps.

Q.  What if we wanted to modestly raise the aggregate spending cap on legislative expenses?

A. It is reasonable conjecture that voters who would vote for an larger state legislature because they believed it would give them better representation, would also vote to pay for it, within reason.  

If there were an inclusive public process to develop a proportional representation plan — and if a modest aggregate spending cap increase was part of that process, it is likely it would have the public support to pass.

It should also be reminded that more money is spent on lobbying the legislature in California, than is spent on the legislature itself. 

Q. Would this require an expensive campaign for the ballot measure campaign to amend the CA Constitution? Where would the money come from?

A. Proportional representation elections for the California State Legislature will not be enacted in a top-down manner, through a bitter political campaign.  They will be enacted when (a) enough people are educated about the benefits of the system, and (b) decide that an electoral system like proportional representation – one that gives more Californians a seat at the table of our democracy – benefits us all. When that happens, it will be about approving a system that a majority of Californians already prefer. At that point, the campaign organizing and fundraising will follow. The education comes first, including via the Feinstein for  Secretary of State campaign.

Q. Why would voters choose proportional representation over Top Two elections?

A. California ended up with its current restrictive Top Two system, because Californians were frustrated with the limited electoral options under the previous single-seat, winner-take-all district system.  But Top Two is just another version of that same system. (Notably, incumbent legislators introduced and placed it on the June 2010 ballot between 2am and 5am on February 9, 2010, with no prior review or public process, in exchange for a legislator’s vote to pass the 2009 statewide budget.)

All Top Two did was exchange new limitations on voter choice for the old ones  The result has been historically narrow general election choices,  results where vote splitting leads to majorities getting no representation, and some of the lowest turnout in California history for both primary and general elections.

Voters want more choice than they get under any version of single-seat, winner-take-all districts, and would get that under proportional representation.