VICTORVILLE, Calif. – Voters in California’s largest county by land size will decide in November if they want the county to possibly explore breaking off or seceding from the state as one of many potential options to “obtain the county’s fair share of state funding.”

The San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors approved the advisory measure unanimously last week. 

With roughly 2.18 million residents, San Bernardino County has the fifth highest population in California. The county’s population is roughly equal to New Mexico’s and larger than 14 other states and the District of Columbia, according to census data. It shares a border with Nevada to the east and Los Angeles and Orange Counties to the west. 

The county is also the largest in the contiguous United States with 20,068 square miles and could fit New Jersey, Connecticut, Delaware, and Rhode Island within its borders.

The measure asks voters: “Do the people of San Bernardino County want San Bernardino County elected representatives to study and advocate for all options to obtain the county’s fair share of state funding up to and including secession from the state of California?”

It is simply an advisory question, which, if the voters approve, will not be controlling or force the supervisors to pursue any action if they choose not to.

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Jeff Burum, a local real estate developer, spurred the debate after asking supervisors in July to consider placing a secession measure on the ballot and turn the county into a new state with the possible name of “Empire.”

He argued the state wasn’t providing the county with enough resources or funding to deal with its issues, including an increased population growth.

“It’s time for us to get our fair share allocation,” he said during a July 26 supervisors’ meeting.

‘Very low probability of success’

The idea of secession isn’t new, but whether San Bernardino County could realistically break off on its own is unlikely.

“There is a very low probability of success in this case,” Jack Pitney, a professor of American politics at Claremont McKenna College, said in an email.

The Constitution requires that a secession be approved by the state Legislature and the U.S. Congress to become a new state. The last time a new state was formed this way was in 1863 with West Virginia, Pitney said.