The SAFE California Campaign has managed to qualify for the November ballot an initiative that would abolish the death penalty and replace it with life without the possibility of parole. SAFE stands for Savings, Accountability, and Full Enforcement for California Act. From the campaign:

Jeanne Woodford, former warden at San Quentin state prison and the official proponent of the Savings, Accountability and Full Enforcement for California Act (the SAFE California Act), announced today the initiative has officially been cleared for the November 2012 ballot by the Secretary of State Debra Bowen.

“California is on the brink of replacing the death penalty with a sentence of life in prison with no chance of parole as the maximum punishment for murder,” Woodford said. “In November, voters will have the first opportunity ever to decide between the death penalty and a sentence of life in prison with absolutely no chance of parole.  Back in 1978, we did not have an alternative sentence that would keep convicted killers behind bars forever. We certainly did not know that we would spend $4 billion on 13 executions. Our system is broken, expensive and it always will carry the grave risk of a mistake. SAFE California offers a solution with savings at a time when we’re laying off teachers and cutting vital services.”

Polling indicates the campaign will have a bit of an up hill fight in convincing voters to abolish the death penalty. A poll by SurveyUSA from last month found that 61% of registered voters in California would vote to keep the death penalty, while just 29% would vote to eliminate it. Similarly a Field Poll from last September found 68% in favor of keeping it with just 27% thinking it should be done away with.

The campaign appears to be banking on the hope that while Californians don’t oppose the concept of the death penalty, they will agree to replace it once they learn more about how it actually functions in the state. The campaign claims simply eliminating the death penalty would save the budget-strapped state $100 million annually.

As their name indicates, pointing out what a huge waste of limited resources the death penalty has turned out to be will feature prominently in their effort to sway voters. The initiative even expressly has some of the money saved from replacing the death penalty earmarked for investigating unsolved rapes and murders.

This should be an interesting test of whether a campaign can use rational arguments to change minds on what is a modestly emotional issue.