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Proposition 16 fails in California, ending move to reinstate affirmative action

California voters have rejected Proposition 16, which would have allowed public institutions to reinstate affirmative action. (Kanishka Mehra/Photo editor)

By Bernard Mendez

Nov. 4, 2020 11:18 a.m.

This post was updated Nov. 8 at 8:16 p.m. with current polling data and student and faculty interviews.

This post was updated Nov. 4 at 1:33 p.m. with statements from the UC Office of the President and the UC Student Association.

California voters have rejected a state measure that could have reintroduced affirmative action to college admissions, according to the Associated Press.

As of 11:44 a.m. Thursday, 56% of California voters had voted against Proposition 16, with 100% of precincts partially reporting. The state ballot measure would have allowed public institutions to use factors like race and gender in admissions and employment decisions.

If passed, the measure would have allowed the University of California to reinstate affirmative action in admissions.

[Related link: Passing of Proposition 16 marks possible return of affirmative action in California]

Even though statewide voters rejected the ballot measure, Los Angeles County voters have slightly favored Proposition 16. As of 4:45 p.m. Wednesday, LA County reported that 51.4% of county voters voted in favor of the measure, although the county is still counting votes.

California previously banned affirmative action in 1996 with Proposition 209. Proposition 16 is a repeal of Proposition 209’s ban on affirmative action.

UC President Michael Drake said in a UC press release that the UC will continue to look to improve diversity at the UC despite the rejection of Proposition 16.

“UC remains steadfast in its commitment to attract and support a student body that reflects California’s dynamism and diversity, despite this setback,” Drake said. “We will continue our unwavering efforts to expand underrepresented groups’ access to a UC education.”

Aidan Arasasingham, the UC Student Association president, said in a press release that he was disappointed Proposition 16 did not pass.

“Voters had a chance to end California’s failed experiment in race-blindness and usher in a new era of opportunity for students and workers in this state,” said Arasasingham, a fourth-year global studies student, in the press release. “Unfortunately, Californians did not live up to our ideals of equity and justice today.”

Ethan Ro, a first-year mechanical engineering student, said he had mixed feelings about Proposition 16 not passing – he said he agreed with its intentions but added he thinks it may need to have less of an emphasis on race alone.

“Ideally we want a big picture of a person’s hardships in their lives,” Ro said. “I know some of this is already addressed in the current system, but I think you just need to bolster race with more concrete statistics.”

But he said the results still surprised him.

“I actually was pretty surprised, I’ll be honest,” Ro said. “California is a fairly liberal state; I thought something like this would pass fairly easily.”

Richard Sander, a law professor, said he wasn’t surprised by the results – previous polling was mostly in line with the outcome, he said. Sander added that although Californians care about racial justice, they might not support preferential treatment based on race.

Sander said he would like to see higher education and the UC take other initiatives to reduce racial inequality, such as combatting housing segregation, which he said is one of the main drivers of racial inequality.

“I think the right strategy is to identify the drivers of racial inequality and address those,” he said.

Mitchell Chang, an education and Asian American studies professor, said he was disappointed Proposition 16 didn’t pass and said the UC will now have to rethink how it wants to approach racial inequality. Chang said he would like to see more focus on student retention.

“So much energy that has been spent on admitting students,” Chang said. “Now that we know affirmative action is not going to come back to California anytime soon, I’d like to see our energy put into graduating students in a timely manner.”

Contributing reports by Saumya Gupta, National news and higher education editor.

This story will be updated.

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Bernard Mendez
Mendez was the 2020-2021 News editor. He was previously a staff news reporter for the Science & Health beat and a developer for The Stack. He is also a third-year math student at UCLA.
Mendez was the 2020-2021 News editor. He was previously a staff news reporter for the Science & Health beat and a developer for The Stack. He is also a third-year math student at UCLA.
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