Calexit’s Greatest Enemy: Math

The much publicized effort to get California to secede from the rest of the country is officially underway. California Secretary of State Alex Padilla has authorized Yes California to begin collecting signatures for a state ballot initiative in 2018. The group needs 585,407 signatures by July 25 to qualify.

It’s the kind of campaign that would have no hope of succeeding, were it not for one little thing: the election of President Donald J. Trump, which has sent much of the reliably blue state into an absolute tailspin. Trump lost the state by 4.3 million votes. In a recent poll, one-third of residents said they supported an independent California.

Should it pass the 585,407 threshold, the so-called “Calexit” movement will face many enemies, but none of them so great as good old fashioned arithmetic.

New York Magazine’s Ed Kilgore explains why the universal language of math is such a downer for Calexit hopefuls:

The first part is the easiest: If Yes California can get its initiative onto the 2018 ballot, it needs only 50-percent-plus-one approval to amend the state constitution. But then the 2019 referendum it authorizes is on shaky legal ground, and according to Yes California’s own ground rules, it would only “pass” if 50 percent of registered voters participated and 55 percent voted for independence. The participation standard alone sets a pretty high bar for success in an off-year election; turnout in the last regular midterm election was only 42 percent.

If a Calexit referendum in California succeeded, of course, it would only take effect if the rest of the country went along with it. That would mean a constitutional amendment requiring two-thirds votes in Congress and ratification by three-fourths of the states, or the first constitutional convention since 1787. The only alternative, unilateral secession, was tried in 1861, as close scholars of history could tell you, and it did not work out well.

That means California would need a total of 67 senators, 290 house members, and 38 states to go along with their plan.

For the sake of argument, let’s say California were somehow able to clear all those political hurdles. Then the new Country of California and its president—presumably Jerry Brown?—would have a whole different set of equations to contend with: share of the federal debt, pensions, the dollar, the amount of water we get from the Colorado River, and more.

No matter which way you look, the numbers don’t seem to add up. But it's still fun to talk about. 


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