California Voters Reject Prop. 16

David Acevedo

Editor's Note: This article was originally published under the name "John David," the former pseudonym of NAS Communications & Research Associate David Acevedo. To learn more about why David no longer writes under this name, click here.

CounterCurrent: Week of 11/8

If you’re anything like me, you spent way too much time reading the news last week. Presidential results, Senate results, House results, local results—the list goes on and on. And while a Biden-Harris administration appears to be confirmed (for more on what that may look like, click here), much is still uncertain. Four states have still not been called for either candidate. In some that have been, lawsuits and recount requests abound. Republicans made significant, unexpected gains in the House and Democrats still have a chance to gain control of the Senate.

One local measure that received far less national coverage was Proposition 16. Outside of California, many were not even aware of its existence. The ballot measure was a proposed amendment to the California state constitution, one that would overturn Proposition 209, the state’s ban on race and sex preferences passed in 1996. 

The National Association of Scholars is pleased to report that Proposition 16 has failed and anti-discrimination law remains on the books in California.

Perhaps surprisingly, Prop. 16 was rejected by a significant margin ( 56.52% to 43.48%). That’s even wider than that which decided the vote to approve Prop. 209 in the 90s (54.55% to 45.45%). This leaves many wondering: how could a state like California, one that is thought to be so progressive, reject an “affirmative action” measure like Prop. 16 by such a wide margin?

Gail Heriot, member of the NAS Board of Directors and leader of the charge against Prop. 16, believes that pro-Prop. 16 advocates simply misread their audience. Speaking to Inside Higher Education, she says "I think California voters voted their conscience on the issue … People think everyone votes according to their race and sex. Californians reject identity politics."

Frederick Hess at the American Enterprise Institute seems to agree, in an op-ed aptly titled “Election results raise questions about education’s racial narrative”:

Californians said no to Proposition 16 even as they handed Biden a massive 32-point statewide victory … Because it can be tough to publicly object to any of this [e.g., affirmative action], the ballot box may have offered a safe place to share those doubts. 

On the other side of the debate, Shirley J. Wilcher, executive director of the American Association for Access Equity and Diversity, argued “there may not have been enough time to ‘educate the electorate’ about Prop 16.” Regardless of time, there was certainly enough money—as per NAS’s press release, the pro-Prop. 16 coalition raised nearly $31 million, compared to the opposition’s measly $1.6 million.

Discussing the results, NAS President Peter Wood says, “The people of California have once again shown that they are nowhere near as biased and fanatical as their local leaders … Almost twenty-five years ago the people of California said ‘no’ to discrimination and they’ve said it again today.”

The efforts of racial preference advocates have now failed or stalled in California, Washington, and New York, three of the bluest states in the country. If “affirmative action” measures can’t be passed there, then where can they? Is it only a matter of time before they will succeed, or will this issue always polarize Americans? Time will tell, but for now, Californians can be confident that they will be judged by their merits, not by the color of their skin.

CounterCurrent is the National Association of Scholars’  weekly newsletter, written by Communications & Research Associate David Acevedo. To subscribe, update your email preferences here.

Image: Andre m, Public Domain

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