Proposition 34, which would replace the death penalty in California with life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, was trailing with nearly a quarter of the state's precincts counted.
The initiative was being rejected by a margin of 55.7 percent to 44.3 percent with vote-by-mail ballots and 24.1 percent of the state's precincts partially or fully counted, according to figures released by the Secretary of State's Office.
Proposition 34 would apply retroactively to inmates sentenced to death and require convicted killers to work while imprisoned, with their wages applied to any victim restitution fines or orders against them.
Passage of Proposition 34 would result in net savings to the state and counties in "the high tens of millions of dollars annually on a statewide basis," according to an analysis prepared by Legislative Analyst Mac Taylor and Director of Finance Ana J. Matosantos.
The measure would set aside $100 million in savings for DNA testing and fingerprint analysis in an attempt to help solve more homicide and rape cases.
"Instead of wasting the money on the death penalty that is broken, we need to spend our criminal justice dollars in a way that does something to improve public safety,'' initiative proponent Jeanne Woodford, a former San Quentin State Prison warden, told City News Service.
"The best way to prevent crime is to solve it. We have to be very thoughtful about how we spend our criminal justice dollars and we can't spend it on a punishment that is so costly and does nothing to improve public safety."
Former U. S. Attorney McGregor Scott, a co-chair of the No on Proposition 34 campaign, said "the answer lies in fixing the death penalty process by eliminating frivolous appeals, not abandoning it."
Deputy Sheriffs' Association of San Diego President Dave Schaller said "eliminating the death penalty would impact public safety and put law enforcement at risk."
California's death penalty law was reinstated by the Legislature in 1977 over the veto of Gov. Jerry Brown and amended by voters in 1978. It has resulted in 13 executions, the most recent in 2006.