This November 8th, three states are asking voters for a thumbs up or thumbs down on the death penalty. The proposed laws illustrate how the death penalty in this country is not standardized (whatever happened to equal protection?) and is thus susceptible to political influence.
Nebraska voters are casting ballots for Referendum 426, which asks whether they want to repeal or maintain a 2015 law eliminating the death penalty that Nebraska’s Republican governor vetoed. This issue, as presented, is confusing. Simply stated: a vote to retain will eliminate the death penalty (overriding the governor’s veto), while a vote to repeal reinstates the death penalty.
Oklahoma voters are being asked to proactively protect their state’s death penalty. The initiative on the November ballot, State Question 776, is intended to protect capital punishment by way of a state constitutional amendment relying on the nuanced argument that Oklahoma-sanctioned executions are not “cruel and unusual punishment” under the Eighth Amendment to the US Constitution.
California voters are offered polemic measures to either end capital punishment or keep it and make the process to execute death row inmates more expeditious through a modified appellate process. A yes vote for Proposition 62 supports ending capital punishment in California and replacing the penalty for capital crimes to life without the possibility of parole. A yes vote for Proposition 66 supports keeping executions in the state and providing legal shortcuts to exhaust challenges on appeals, which can take more than five years.
Voters who will be casting their ballots on these initiatives should take into consideration that, as reported in USA Today’s October 24, 2016, issue, in 2015 there were 149 DNA exonerations in capital punishment cases. Whether a person is exposed to the death penalty based on what state he or she is convicted of the commission of a capital offense is an affront to the notion of equal protection of the law (as provided by the Fourteenth Amendment of the US Constitution).
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