WASHINGTON — The death penalty was up for a vote in California, Nebraska and Oklahoma on Tuesday, but stands against capital punishment proved unpopular with voters in all three states.
In California, Proposition 62 promised to end the death penalty and reduce death sentences to life in prison without parole.
California’s Catholic bishops had strongly backed the measure.
“In a culture of death, I believe mercy alone can be the only credible witness to the sanctity of life and the dignity of the human person,” Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles said in September.
A contrary proposal, California ballot measure Proposition 66 limited the appeal process for death-row inmates and shortened the time from sentencing to execution.
In voting results, Proposition 62 went down to defeat, taking only 46% of the vote. Proposition 66 won 50.9% of the vote.
Another death-penalty fight took place in Nebraska, whose unicameral legislature had repealed the death penalty earlier this year.
The Nebraska vote on the death penalty required anti-death penalty voters to vote “retain” to secure the legislature’s anti-death penalty veto. A “repeal” vote would have overridden the legislature.
Nebraska’s three bishops backed a “retain” vote.
But the ballot measure to repeal the Senate’s anti-death penalty stand succeeded by a vote of about 61%, with nearly 800,000 people voting.
“We express our disappointment that the death penalty will be reinstated in Nebraska,” Nebraska’s three bishops, led by Archbishop George Lucas of Omaha, said in a joint statement Nov. 9. “We will continue to call for the repeal of the death penalty when it is not absolutely necessary to protect the public safety.”
In May, the Nebraska Senate had overridden Gov. Peter Ricketts’ veto of a death-penalty repeal by a vote of 32-15.
Ricketts, a Catholic, personally donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to the pro-death penalty group Nebraskans for the Death Penalty, according to media reports. At one point in the campaign, Bishop James Conley of Lincoln asked the group to retract advertisements he said distorted his words.
In Oklahoma, a state with the highest execution rate per capita, voters decided on State Question 776. The measure affirmed the death penalty’s use and declared it not to constitute “the infliction of cruel or unusual punishment.”
The state had faced controversy, given the botched execution of Clayton Lockett, who took 45 minutes to die. The Oklahoma death-penalty protocol had survived a Supreme Court challenge from inmates who charged it constituted cruel and unusual punishment.
The Oklahoma measure passed by a vote of 66%.