What is Proposition 16?

  • October 20, 2020
A phrase taken from an advertisement created by those in favor of Proposition 16.

According to the California Official Voter Information Guide, Proposition 16, if enacted, “allows diversity as a factor in public employment, education, and contracting decisions” as long as it does not interfere with the already-standing federal law of equal protection. Proposition 16 would repeal Proposition 209, which was voted into law in 1996. Article 1, section 31, of the California Constitution prohibits preferential treatment and discrimination against groups or individuals on the grounds of diversity in public employment, education, and contracting decisions. Before Proposition 209, affirmative action allowed for increased representation and opportunities for those individuals who faced inequalities due to their minority status. There are, however, some exceptions to Proposition 209 when it comes to the gender of a person in specific jobs in environments, such as state prisons where the staff and inmates have to be of the same sex. Also, federally funded transportation projects such as businesses owned by women and people of color, under Proposition 209, are required to be given a certain amount of public contracts. In addition, many of the state’s universities provide outreach and support programs for students who are the first in their family to attend college. Many of them also considered the highschool a student attended and where they reside. 

Proposition 16 does not alter any other state or federal laws, or explicitly create any new policies so there are no direct fiscal effects. However, if state or local authorities create programs and/or policies that expand upon this proposal, then there could very well be an indirect fiscal effect. 

In Favor:

Those in favor of Proposition 16 believe that it will give all Californians “equal opportunities to thrive with fair wages, good jobs, and quality schools.” They say California is run by the elite few who reject giving back to their communities in favor of keeping the money to themselves. Though California is the most diverse state in America, these elite few are primarily older white men. Their companies get nearly all the public contracts and the jobs that go with them while white women can barely make 80 cents to the dollar. This wage disparity is even worse with single moms and women of color. Prop. 16 would open up more opportunities for businesses owned by women and people of color to get these public contracts and have a greater ability to be more prosperous. This public contract crisis is even worse for small businesses which are proven to be the backbone of the American economy. They lose over $1.1 billion annually in government contracts under the current law. Fixing this and voting yes on Prop. 16 is even more important during the COVID-19 crisis as women, especially women of color, are serving disproportionately as frontline workers and essential caregivers yet are getting none of the recognition and rewards they deserve. 

Also, despite an unprecedented number of Californians taking action against systemic racism and voicing their support for real change, those shared values are being threatened by the Trump administration and its policies. Unconcealed racism is on the rise, according to the California Official Voter Information Guide: “white supremacists on the march, the daily demonization of Latino immigrants, Black people gunned-down in our streets, anti-Asian hate crimes on the rise, women’s rights under attack, and COVID-19 ravaging Native communities.” The affirmation concluded with, “by voting YES on Prop. 16, Californians can take action to push back against racism and sexism and create a more just and fair state for all.”


The opposition, according to the California Official Voter Information Guide, believes that the state should not “grant preferential treatment to any individual or group based on race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting.” They say that “Proposition 209-should remain firmly in place.” They believe that the repeal would be a step backward and heighten tensions during a time where unification is essential for us to move forward as a society. The opposition thinks that politicians would take advantage of Prop. 16 and display favoritism by giving preferential treatment to their allies. The belief that past discrimination against women and minorities can be fixed by discriminating against men and other racial minorities is inherently flawed. It would punish innocent people and would continue a never-ending cycle of resentment. 

Also, the opposition believes that Proposition 16 is formed from over-generalized notions. Not every white or Asian American is advantaged and not every Latino or African American is disadvantaged. There are successful people of all sexes, races, and ethnicities in California so we shouldn’t perpetuate the false narrative that minorities and women can’t be successful without preferential treatment. Furthermore, current legislation allows for “affirmative action” as long as it doesn’t give preferential treatment or discrimination. State universities often give students from low-income families or first-generation college students extra help in the competition and the state is allowed to help low-income individuals starting businesses or looking for jobs.

Moreover, before Proposition 16, preferential treatment had to be carried out by incredibly costly local bureaucracies. Just 2 years after Prop. 209 was carried out, CalTrans contracts governed by Proposition 209 saved 5.6% over non Prop. 209 contracts. In the California Official Voter Information Guide, the negation concluded with, “prohibiting preferential treatment based on race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin is a fundamental part of the American creed…Vote NO.”

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