California's Proposition 33 auto insurance initiative lagging

SACRAMENTO -- Proposition 33, an auto insurance initiative bankrolled by 91-year-old Mercury General Corp. Chairman George Joseph, was struggling late on election day.

With about 29% of the votes counted statewide, the measure had only 46.9% of the vote in favor, with 53.1% opposing.

Critics of Proposition 33, led by Santa Monica-based Consumer Watchdog, said they expected the no vote to grow even larger after the bulk of votes are tallied in populous Los Angeles County.

The measure would have changed part of a nearly quarter-century-old initiative that regulated auto insurance in California and specifically banned insurers from offering a type of discount provided by Proposition 33.

The initiative would provide a special rate for previously insured drivers even when they switch insurance companies. The discount, Joseph said, would reward responsible motorists who comply with the state's mandatory insurance law.

But providing that discount, Consumer Watchdog argued, could unfairly raise rates for newly insured drivers and people who had been previously uninsured for a variety of reasons, such as not owning a car.

Indications that voters are rejecting Proposition 33 is evidence that "insurance companies or insurance billionaires or any other special interest can't buy the vote," No campaign head Jaime Court said.

The Yes on Proposition 33 campaign did not respond to requests for comment.