How to Read a State Proposition

When the people of a state use their power to make or reject a law, citizens can prepare to cast an informed vote. Propositions are either an initiative proposed by the people or the people’s referendum on a piece of legislation passed by the state congress. With either type of proposal, you can get a copy to read from the secretary of state or a local registrar of voters.

Put the proposition on the desk.


Look at the top to find out whether the proposition is an initiative or a referendum. An initiative is proposed by the people after a citizen succeeds in getting enough signatures on a petition. The referendum is a proposal to approve or reject a bill, a resolution or other legislation passed by the congress.

The copy might state the people proposed or the legislature proposed. Congressional legislation has a number at the top and language saying the legislature is making the law. If you can not find either, look for a statement in a head section that tells a reader who proposes the law.

Examine any head section under the proposition title. First attend to the description of the law amended. Both initiatives and referendums can change the state constitution, change a statute or add a statute. Note the part of the law to be changed or added.

Attend to a description of the kind of change: a change, a deletion or an addition. When you read the text, you can see the text will be in the law and the text that will be stricken. As typically done, California makes the proposition clear by using different types. The current law that will stay the same is in normal type. Current language that will be deleted is in strikeout type. New provisions and new language are in italics. If the proposal passes, the law will read like the normal type and italic type.

Read the legislative statement at the beginning of each section. Each statement tells you the title of the law and the part of the law amended. Title case words describe the law. For the part, look for numbers of articles and sections.

Read through the text once. The first time through, read the law as it will exist after amendment. Do not read any stricken text. Use this reading to learn the subject of the proposal and the legal provisions. Read one section at a time.

If you want to review the deletions in the current law, read the text a second time, this time attending to the stricken text.

Study the text. Find the provisions you are most interested in. Read these sentences thoroughly. Take the time to understand each definition, rule and statement of policy or findings. Learn all you need to make an informed vote.


Read the proposition well before the election. At the voting site, you do not have much time, and there is a limited number of posted copies.


Not all proposition copies have a head section. You might get only the initiative or congressional legislation.


California Secretary of State, Initiative Guide.
Missouri Secretary of State, Make Your Voice Heard: Petition Process and the Fair Ballot Access Act.

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