Politics & Policy

Californians Will Vote on Whether to Split the State in Three

(Mike Blake/Reuters)
But the ‘Cal3’ referendum is only the first step.

On November 6, Californians will vote on Cal3 — a proposal to split California into three states. The controversial initiative is the brainchild of venture capitalist Tim Draper and seeks to create California (six counties), Northern California (40 counties), and Southern California (twelve counties).

The measure is set to appear on the ballot after it comfortably surpassed the 365,880 signatures from registered voters that are required by state law. Draper’s previous proposal, a 2014 effort to split the state into six pieces, failed to raise sufficient support.

Cal3’s official spokesperson, Peggy Grande, told National Review, “We know that California is broken. It’s too big to govern. It’s too big to function. We see this failure up and down California from Sacramento in every statistic. Californians are paying the highest taxes and yet have failing schools and infrastructure. Sacramento keeps taking more and more and giving less and less.”

Grande added, “This is a great way for Californians to say we want governments to be more responsive and more responsible. And that comes with dividing California into smaller, more manageable states that will have greater local focus.”

California is the third-largest state geographically and the very largest in terms of population. Ilya Somin, a law professor at George Mason University, has written that “competitive pressure on the state government would be much greater if there were three or four states occupying California’s present territory instead of one.”

However, in a poll of 559 likely voters by Survey USA, only 13 percent supported the measure, while 75 percent opposed it and 12 percent remained undecided. Another poll by YouGov, which considered views across America, was more evenly split. It found that half of Millennials were supportive of Cal3.

And even if Californians vote in favor of Cal3 in November, the measure still faces many legal and political hurdles.

First, the initiative depends on an invocation of Article IV, Section 3, of the U.S. Constitution, which allows the creation of new states within existing ones. This provision, however, is dependent on consent from both Congress and the relevant state’s “Legislature.” Vikram David Amar, a law professor at the University of Illinois Law College, points out that whether a ballot referendum would count as an act of the “Legislature” is legally unclear.

While the new California and Northern California would be safely blue, Southern California would not.

Theoretically, Amar says, a lawsuit based on this objection could prevent the initiative from appearing on the ballot. So far, no such suit has been filed, but Amar thinks such a suit would have a high chance of success.

In addition, it has been suggested by Amar — and by Richard L. Hasen, a professor at UC Irvine School of Law — that what Cal3 proposes is more of a “revision” than an “amendment,” and that therefore, under California law, it requires approval from Sacramento before it can appear on the ballot. The state’s non-partisan Legislative Analyst’s Office also found the proposal to be “far-reaching.”

Though Cal3 is not a partisan issue in itself, the initiative has a number of political implications. For instance, it would divide up the state’s large number of Electoral College votes — 55 through 2020 (the year of the next census) — which today are routinely given to Democratic presidential candidates under the state’s “winner take all” system. While the new California and Northern California would be safely blue, Southern California would not. In 2012, Obama beat Romney in Southern California by just 0.63 percentage points. If this area were to turn red it would cost the Democrats about a third of their electoral votes in California. Cal3 would also send an additional four senators to Congress’s upper chamber, though this could prove more worrisome for Republicans.

Since its creation in 1850, more than 200 attempts have been made to partition California. In 1859, a north-south divide was very nearly brought about thanks to state representative Andres Pico. Both legislative chambers passed Pico’s bill, and the governor even signed it. However, in 1860, the secession crisis and the subsequent Civil War diverted the attention of the federal government. All subsequent attempts have been far less successful.

Despite the challenges ahead, Grande told NR, “we believe that if Californians become more aware of what [Cal3] is, we will see wide support up and down California from a wide variety of people.”

All things considered, though, Cal3 is a long shot.

Madeleine Kearns — Madeleine Kearns is a William F. Buckley Fellow in Political Journalism at the National Review Institute. She is from Glasgow, Scotland, and moonlights as a singer.

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