Skip to main content

How is the California Constitution Amended?

Printer-friendly version
August 19, 2016

The California State Constitution is the foundation of the state government. One of the longest and oldest state constitutions, it holds the enduring principles by which California is governed. Hence, change and modification should be rare.

However, in comparison to federal standards, the California Constitution can be easily amended, and as of the date of this publishing, the document has been changed close to 500 times.

The California Constitution can be amended in these ways:

  • Two-thirds of the membership of each chamber of the California State Legislature must ratify a proposed amendment, which then becomes a statewide ballot initiative to be approved by a majority of the state’s voters. (California Constitution, Article 18, Section 1.)
  • The California State Legislature, with approval of 2/3 of both houses, may submit a ballot initiative calling for a Constitutional State Convention, which if approved, would then vote on amendments via chosen delegates from throughout the state. (California Constitution, Article 18, Section 2.)
  • The electorate may amend the constitution by a ballot proposition. (California Constitution, Article 18, Section 3.)

Those amendments that are ratified by the electorate go into effect the day after the election.

If there are two competing propositions on the ballot (as there is on November 8, 2016, see death penalty), and they both get more than 50 percent of the vote, the initiative that receives the majority of the votes will prevail. (California Constitution, Article 18, Section 4.)

In the case of the voters of California amending the constitution via ballot propositions, proponents of the measure are required to obtain 8% of the votes cast for all candidates in the last gubernatorial race. In some election years, low voter turnout can make this process easier by lowering the required number of signatures. There are also businesses that offer to gather voter signatures for a fee, making ballot propositions that amend the state constitution within ready of entities outside of government.