For the first time since before the Civil War, voters across California will decide in November on a proposal to split up the Golden State — potentially remaking it into three new states.
An initiative dividing California, pushed by Silicon Valley venture capital investor Tim Draper, received enough signatures to qualify it for the November ballot, the Secretary of State’s office confirmed Tuesday afternoon.
Supporters of the radical plan submitted more than 600,000 signatures, and a random sample projected that enough are valid that the measure can go before voters, setting up a campaign that is sure to attract a carnivalesque atmosphere and only-in-California chuckles from across the country.
While the effort has cleared a major hurdle by getting on the ballot, it will be a tough sell to voters and would require Congressional approval.
“This isn’t as easy or straightforward as its supporters want to make out,” said Shaun Bowler, a political science professor at UC Riverside who’s studied California’s initiative process.
The proposal would split America’s most populous state into three: California would be reduced to a coastal strip running south from Monterey to just past Los Angeles.
The Bay Area would be part of a new Northern California state with a border that starts north of Monterey, runs east and north to the Nevada state line, and includes everything north to the Oregon border.
A new Southern California state would run south from the Northern California border, skirt around the coast from Monterey past Los Angeles, and include San Diego, Death Valley and the rest of the state east to Nevada and Arizona.
The effort faces strong headwinds. A poll conducted in April found that only 17 percent of registered California voters favored the proposal, while 72 percent opposed it.
Even if approved by state voters, splitting up the state still would require approval from Congress — no easy thing in a sharply divided country. Voters approved breaking California into two states in 1859, but Congress never acted on that request.
Creating two new states would add four new U.S. Senators, two for each of the additional California’s, while reshuffling electoral college math in presidential elections. Initial analyses suggest that Northern California and California would remain reliably Democratic, while Southern California would be a swing state.
Draper, who did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday, previously pushed an effort to break California into six states but didn’t receive enough signatures to put that plan onto the 2016 ballot. He and other supporters argue that the Golden State has become ungovernable and smaller states would be more efficient.
“California government has rotted,” Draper said in an interview last month. “We need to empower our population to improve their government.”
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Dozens of other efforts to remake California have failed over the years, including a campaign to split off conservative northern counties into a new state of “Jefferson” and a bid for California to secede from the U.S. completely.
Steven Maviglio, a Democratic political consultant who worked on a past campaign opposing the state’s breakup, said Draper’s initiative was taking the wrong track.
“Splitting California into three new states will triple the amount of special interests, lobbyists, politicians and bureaucracy,” Maviglio said in an email. “California government can do a better job addressing the real issues facing the state, but this measure is a massive distraction that will cause political chaos and greater inequality.”