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It's Worth Trying Death Penalty Repeal Again

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Opinion: Try Death Penalty Repeal Again

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Anti-death penalty protester Katie Wilde holds a placard during a rally and a march in front of the Federal Building on Sept. 28, 2010 in the Westwood section of Los Angeles.

If you want to make a change in California by ballot initiative, you usually have to lose first. Howard Jarvis suffered through a pair of failures to pass property tax relief before he won with Prop 13. Redistricting reform failed five times at the ballot before the voters endorsed it.

The repeal of the death penalty just lost.

But there are signs that, if backers of repeal try again, they'll win.

Those signs? The death penalty repeal initiative -- Prop 34 -- came very close to winning, with the current tally just under 48 percent. Prop 34 outperformed late polls, suggesting it had gained.

There are also signs that the population in California, and nationally, is moving against the death penalty. Much of the democratic world sees the death penalty as beyond the pale (the U.S. is an outlier among advanced countries in maintaining the death penalty).

What's more, the death penalty costs more than life imprisonment, and California is a state with persistent budget problems that aren't going away (despite recent happy talk about the temporary tax revenues that were approved as Prop 30).

So it's a good bet that Prop 34 was just the first of what could be multiple attempts to repeal the death penalty. Here's betting that backers of this cause, by losing, will eventually win.

Lead Prop Zero blogger Joe Mathews is California editor at Zocalo Public Square, a fellow at Arizona State University’s Center for Social Cohesion, and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (University of California, 2010).

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