Californians reject Prop 25 push to replace cash bail with algorithms

Californians reject Prop 25 push to replace cash bail with algorithms
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California voters rejected Prop 25, which would have replaced the state’s cash bail system with algorithmic assessment tools. With 100% of precincts in the state reporting and more than 11 million ballots cast, about 55% of people voted against Prop 25, according to the California Secretary of State website. Californians also voted to reject Proposition 20, which would have toughened sentencing in criminal cases.

Many states in the U.S. and numerous California counties already use risk assessment tools, which claim to predict an individual’s threat to public safety and flight risk. But the law would have made California the first state to entirely replace cash bail with algorithms.

The proposition was placed on the ballot by groups within the cash bail industry, which largely financed the “yes” campaign. But AI, legal, and privacy experts opposing Prop 25 argued that algorithms trained on historical data can perpetuate and accelerate systemic bias.

Prop 25 would have upheld Senate Bill 10 (SB 10), which passed in 2018 and requires each of California’s nearly 60 counties to create their own algorithmic risk assessment tools or purchase services from a private vendor. Prop 25 supporters included Governor Gavin Newsom and Congressperson Karen Bass. Advocates of the bill argued that cash bail is an outdated system that preys on poor people. Currently, the United States and the Philippines are the only nations that use cash bail.

The “no” on Prop 25 campaign attracted a broad range of groups, from the ACLU to Human Rights Watch, due to concerns about algorithmic bias and transparency. Conservative groups like the Republican Party of California opposed the measure on the grounds of cost.

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Last fall, California lawmakers passed Senate Bill 36 to better evaluate pretrial risk assessment algorithms. However, experts who spoke with VentureBeat questioned how the government would assess fairness and evaluate the risk assessment algorithms if they were implemented.

This year, Prop 25 was one of a series of California ballot propositions with major implications for the tech industry. Voters approved Prop 22, enabling gig economy companies to treat workers as independent contractors instead of employees. The “yes” vote delivers a victory for gig economy companies like DoorDash, Lyft, and Uber, which used their own apps to promote the proposition and spent more than $200 million on the most expensive proposition campaign in state history.

Voters also approved Prop 24, which strengthens consumer privacy law and calls for the creation of a Privacy Protection Agency. On a similar front, the state’s Consumer Privacy Protection Act (CCPA) is being enforced as of July.

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