2020 Election Series: A Guide to the California Ballot Measures That Have Local-to-global Implications

On November 3, Angelenos and Californians will have the opportunity to weigh in on a number of issues that have “local-to-global” implications; Justin Chapman explores how some of these state and county ballot measures relate to issues that other countries are also grappling with, presented as part of our voter initiative, 2020 Election: A Local-to-Global Opportunity

By Justin Chapman, Pacific Council on International Policy, 9/17/2020

In addition to one of the most consequential presidential elections in modern times—if not American history—on November 3, Angelenos and Californians will have the opportunity to weigh in on a number of issues that have “local-to-global” implications. The ballot will include 12 measures covering affirmative action, cash bail, rent control, and more.

The following is an exploration of how some of these state and county ballot measures relate to issues that other countries are also grappling with, presented as part of our voter initiative, 2020 Election: A Local-to-Global Opportunity. This initiative focuses on what it means to be a local-to-global voter, a concept we are exploring and sharing with members through our virtual events, social media resources, volunteer opportunities, and expert commentary and analysis in our online Magazine.

We are not telling you how to vote. Rather, we are sharing this nonpartisan, factual information that will help inform and equip you with expected outcomes. The Council values global engagement, inclusion, and bipartisanship—while maintaining our status as a nonpartisan not-for-profit. The Council believes that having a local-to-global mindset as a voter leads to better policy outcomes.

Get Involved: In order to expand upon these issues, the Pacific Council will host a Local-to-Global Ballot Initiative Party (on Zoom), where Pacific Council members will debate the pros and cons of three California ballots for the 2020 Election—and we want YOUR help. We are looking for presenters on California propositions 16 and 17 and LA County’s Alternatives to Incarceration Charter Amendment to address either the pros or cons of the measure. If you are a Council member who is interested in participating, learn how you can get involved here.


LA County—Alternatives to Incarceration Charter Amendment

If approved, this measure would amend LA County’s charter to require that no less than 10 percent of the county’s general fund be appropriated to community programs and alternatives to incarceration, such as health services and pre-trial non-custody services. (Ballotpedia)

Coupled with the national conversation around the role of law enforcement is the ever-growing rate of incarceration. In the United States, 693 people out of every 100,000 are incarcerated, the highest rate in the world, according to the Vera Institute of Justice. No industrialized nation even comes close. The countries with the next highest rates include El Salvador, Turkmenistan, Thailand, Palau, Rwanda, and Cuba. Germany, to cite one example on the other hand, incarcerates 76 per 100,000 residents.

Prison reform has thus emerged as a bipartisan issue in the United States. According to Vera, the U.S. prison population has increased 700 percent in the last 40 years. “Despite this massive investment in incarceration, the national recidivism rate remains at a stubborn 40 percent—meaning that four in 10 incarcerated people will return to prison within three years of release.”

Additionally, overcrowding is a direct result of mass incarceration, which results in human rights violations. Building more prisons does not alleviate the problem; it exacerbates it. Instead, “numerous international instruments recommend a rationalization in sentencing policy, including the wider use of alternatives to prison, aiming to reduce the number of people being isolated from society for long periods,” according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.

The United Nations has argued that framing prison reform as a human rights issue has not been enough to implement such reforms. “The detrimental impact of imprisonment, not only on individuals but on families and communities, and economic factors” as well as public health must also be taken into account.


How do other countries handle alternatives to incarceration? In Germany and the Netherlands, both of which have significantly lower incarceration rates compared to the United States, prison systems are “organized around central tenets of resocialization and rehabilitation,” whereas the U.S. system is “organized around the central tenets of incapacitation and retribution,” according to Vera. Both European countries impose shorter prison sentences than the United States and instead issue fines or community-based sentences. When prison sentences are implemented, they make life in prison “as similar as possible to life in the community,” an approach known as “normalization.”

Norway also issues shorter prison sentences. Additionally, Norway’s low-level and serious offenders are housed in different kinds of prisons with varying levels of security, freedoms, and responsibilities. The Norwegian system avoids overcrowding by maintaining one prisoner per cell, and also offers education, drug treatment, mental health, and training programs, according to a study submitted to the World Economic Forum.

A study conducted by the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, which pointed out that there is little research on the impact of alternatives to imprisonment in Europe, explained that several European countries have had success in utilizing alternatives to incarceration. Those measures include community sanctions (often involving unpaid work for a certain period of time); curfews enforced by electronic monitoring or suspended custodial sentences; supervision or control with treatment or rehabilitation, (for example, supervised access to training, education, drug or alcohol treatment, mental health care, or restorative justice, often with regular probation supervision); decriminalizing low-level offences (including non-violent drug offences); and abolishing mandatory minimum sentences.

Prop. 16: Ending the ban on affirmative action

This statewide measure would allow schools and public agencies to take race and other immutable characteristics into account when making admission, hiring, or contracting decisions. (CalMatters)

Californians voted to ban affirmative action in state institutions back in 1996. According to CalMatters, this resulted in “an immediate drop in Black and Latino enrollment at the state’s elite public universities.” Since then, the conversation around race and systemic racism has changed and calls for equitable representation in all areas of society have grown. According to Politico, California is “one of only eight states that do not allow affirmative action in hiring, awarding state contracts, or accepting students.”

As an article in The Hill points out, “using educational remedies to help address social injustice is not unique to the United States.” Globally, about 25 percent of the world’s countries have some form of affirmative action, according to a study in The Conversation. India has policies in place for lower-caste students, South Africa has policies that admit underrepresented students as well as mentor them to success, and Brazil is also developing such policies after years of denying racial inequities.


Many countries focus their affirmative action policies on women, including in Africa, Europe, and North America. Indeed, affirmative action policies for women are the most prevalent kind around the world. More countries are also introducing gender quotas for public elections. “Half of the countries of the world today use some type of electoral quota for their parliament,” according to IDEA.

Some countries that don’t want to take race or ethnicity into consideration instead consider geography. Sri Lanka and France use geographic district because “it’s less controversial than ethnicity or language. Affirmative action based on geography (the place a student comes from) appeals to policymakers reluctant to give race, ethnicity, or caste such a prominent and explicit role.”

As the study points out, “affirmative action is alive and well—and on the rise—around the world.” Innovation in this area is mostly taking place outside the United States.

Prop. 17: Restoring the right to vote to people on parole

If passed, this measure would allow Californians who are currently on parole to vote. (CalMatters)

Unlike the United States, many countries allow their ex-felons to vote. More than 6 million Americans with current or former felony convictions are disenfranchised, according to The New York Times.

In much of Europe, prisoners currently serving time can still vote, let alone after they’ve paid their debt to society. “In democracies the world over, being incarcerated does not strip someone of citizenship and the voting rights that come with it,” an international election monitor wrote in the Times. Rather, they’re “encouraged to take their duties as citizens in a democracy seriously.” According to Newsweek, “only four democracies—including the United States—restrict voting rights after a person’s period of incarceration has ended.”

In the United States, the rules vary from state to state. In California, those with a criminal record can still vote if they are not currently in state or federal prison or on parole for the conviction of a felony. Prop. 17 would restore voting rights to Californians in that latter group, bringing the state one step closer to norms practiced in most democracies.


In 2006, the UN Human Rights Committee argued that the United States “should adopt appropriate measures to ensure that states restore voting rights to citizens who have fully served their sentences and those who have been released on parole,” and that disenfranchisement laws were discriminatory and violated international law.

According to Human Rights Watch, “no other country in the world restricts people with felony convictions from voting for life.”

This measure also ties into the LA County Alternatives to Incarceration Charter Amendment discussed earlier. Biases in the criminal justice system mean that poor people and people of color are more likely than others to be convicted of crimes and to lose their voting rights, while wealthy people can always afford the best lawyers. When people feel that they are valued members of their community, and that their voices matter and concerns are addressed, they are less likely to re-engage in criminal activity. Evidence shows that people who are able to become civically engaged in their communities after they are released are actually three times more likely to never be arrested again.

Prop. 18: Letting (some) 17-year-olds vote (some of the time)

If passed, this measure would allow 17-year-old U.S. citizens to vote in primaries and special elections as long as they will turn 18 by the subsequent general election. (CalMatters)

Voter turnout across the United States is historically low. The argument in favor of the proposition says that allowing 17-year-olds to vote could improve youth engagement in civic affairs, combat voter apathy, and increase voter turnout.

Several countries go even further and allow 16-year-olds to vote, including Argentina, Austria, Brazil, Cuba, Ecuador, and Nicaragua, according to a report in The Guardian. Other countries, such as East Timor, Ethiopia, Indonesia, North Korea, and Sudan, allow 17-year-olds to vote (with varying levels of electoral legitimacy overall). There are even countries where the voting age is higher than 18, such as 19 in South Korea, 20 in Japan, Bahrain, Nauru, Cameroon, and Taiwan, and 21 in Kuwait, Lebanon, Malaysia, Oman, Samoa, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, the Solomon Islands, and Tonga. The other 86 percent of countries have a voting age of 18, according to Batch Geo.


Germany allows 16-year-olds to vote in some state elections. In Italy’s senate elections, voters must be 25 years old. And the only state in the world with a maximum voting age, according to The Guardian report, is Vatican City, where “only cardinals aged under 80 are allowed to cast a vote in papal elections.”

In some countries, voting is actually compulsory between certain age limits such as 18 to 65, and optional outside those ranges. This is another example where other countries go even further than California—let alone the United States—on some of the issues that are being addressed in November’s ballot measures.

In the United States, on issues such as gun control, climate change, racial justice, and more, young people are more involved, informed, and active than they have been in decades. Proponents of Prop. 17 argue that allowing 17-year-olds to vote in primary and special elections will encourage them to get involved even more. A more active and engaged citizenry can lead to better policy outcomes and a more equitable society.

California would not be the first state to enact such a policy; 23 other states already let 17- year-olds vote under various circumstances, according to CalMatters.

Prop. 22: Self-employment for ride-hail and other app-drivers

If passed, this measure would turn “app-based” drivers into independent contractors, exempting companies such as Lyft and Uber from standard wage and hour restrictions. It would also guarantee these drivers an earnings floor, a stipend to purchase health insurance, and other minimum benefits. (CalMatters)

In 2019, the California legislature approved and Governor Gavin Newsom signed AB 5, a controversial law that requires certain companies to treat their independent contractors like employees. While the aim was to improve workers’ benefits, pay, and protections, “it upended the business models of Uber, Lyft, Doordash, Postmates, and Instacart, all of which rely on an army of phone-toting gig-workers to provide their various services,” according to CalMatters. The bill also placed restrictions on writers, photographers, and other freelancers unless employers also treated them as employees. This resulted in unintended consequences.

Prop. 22, prompted by a campaign funded by Lyft, Uber, and Doordash, seeks to remedy those consequences and void the regulations imposed by AB 5. App-based rideshare and delivery companies could hire drivers as independent contractors, who could decide when, where, and how much to work but would not get standard benefits and protections that businesses must provide employees.

If this measure is not approved by voters, app-based rideshare and delivery companies would have to hire drivers as employees and follow AB 5’s other regulations. Drivers would have less choice about when, where, and how much to work but would get standard benefits and protections that businesses must provide employees.

While the implementation of the ride-sharing business model has been highly controversial around the globe, the widely-used, now ubiquitous independent contractor model has blurred the lines of labor rights. Ride-sharing drivers are not guaranteed a minimum wage and do not enjoy benefits and other protections. In a state with the strictest labor laws in the country, how this measure fares may prove to be influential in other countries where the controversial business model flies in the face of socialist/welfare policies.


Many of these companies have substantial global reach. Uber, for example, is available in more than 900 cities in 69 countries, according to the company’s February 2020 Investor Presentation. It also owns a significant stake in similar ride-sharing companies in Russia, Southeast Asia, and China, and claims 65 percent market share in the United States, Canada, Latin America, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, the Middle East, and Africa, and a 50 percent market share in India.

Business of Apps estimated around a quarter of Uber’s driver base are domestic, with the other 75 percent international. “We don’t have a breakdown of how many are based in the United States, and how many in the rest of the world,” it reported. In terms of riders, though, Uber’s biggest market is the United States with 41.8 million riders as of March 2018. Brazil is Uber’s second-biggest market with 17 million riders. In Europe, the UK is its biggest market with 3.5 million riders.

“The global net revenue of the market leader, Uber, amounted to $11.3 billion from 2013 to 2018,” Onde reported. “Lyft, the next-closest competitor, made $2.16 billion from 2016 to 2018.”

This issue could be one in which California takes action and the rest of the country and the world follow suit, as the state has done many times in the past. The outcome of this ballot initiative could have ripple effects with global implications.

Prop. 24: Stronger consumer privacy laws

If passed, this measure would strengthen California’s already strongest-in-the-nation consumer privacy law and establish a California Privacy Protection Agency. (CalMatters)

This is an issue that’s not specific to California or the United States. Digital privacy rights are a hot button topic around the world. In the EU, for example, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is the “toughest privacy and security law in the world,” according to the regulation’s website. It doesn’t just apply to activity in the EU, but to organizations anywhere that target or collect data related to people in the EU.

The GDPR, which was enacted in 2016, has strict rules about the collection, processing, storing, accessibility, erasure, security, etc., of people’s personal data. Organizations or individuals who violate the GDPR can face stiff penalties such as fines up to €20 million or 4 percent of global revenue (whichever is higher). Data subjects also have the right to seek compensation for any damages.


Prop. 24 would expand on the existing consumer data privacy laws and rights in California, including the California Consumer Privacy Act, which was passed in 2018 and gave consumers the right to find out what data companies are collecting about them, to opt out of having it collected, and to have that data scrubbed upon request. According to CalMatters, it was and remains the only such law in the country.

Today’s technological landscape often posits that consumer/personal data is the new human right. Should this measure pass, California would become an even stronger leader in this arena and potentially the globe. It would also beef up financial penalties for violators and allow consumers to demand that personal information not be shared at all, rather than simply not sold. This could have ramifications for commerce between California and industries around the world.


Justin Chapman is the Communications Officer at the Pacific Council on International Policy.

Ashley McKenzie and Moriah Tafoya contributed to this report.

Learn more about the Council’s 2020 Election: A Local-to-Global Opportunity initiative here.