California’s dysfunctional death penalty faces a fate next month that seems fitting: voters can put it out of its misery, or fix it so it does what it promises. The state is among three where voters will make decisions on capital punishment, the Associated Press reports. California’s ballot initiatives — one would repeal capital punishment, the other would speed up appeals so convicted murderers are actually executed — are the product of those who agree only that the current system is broken, leaving murder victims’ kin grieving and the condemned languishing on death row. In Nebraska, voters will be asked whether they want to reinstate the death penalty, and Oklahoma residents will decide whether to make it harder to abolish it.
In California, more than 900 convicted murderers have been sent to death row since 1978 but only 13 have been executed. Many more have died of natural causes, and no one has been put to death in more than a decade after a judge ordered an overhaul to the lethal injection procedure. The referendum to repeal California’s death penalty and replace it with life in prison without parole is a repeat of a 2012 ballot measure that failed 52 to 48 percent. Only voters in Arizona and twice in Oregon have repealed the death penalty and both states later reversed course to reinstate it. Executions have mostly been in decline since the turn of the century, and last year reached their lowest level in 25 years, with 28 prisoners killed. Capital punishment has been legislatively or judicially repealed in eight states since 2000.