Oregonians may get a chance to repeal one of the worst laws ever passed in this state. The Senate voted this week 29-8 to scrap the "double-majority" election rule. If the House follows suit, the proposal will go to the voters. Since the rule is part of the state constitution it can only be changed through a statewide vote.
The current provision stipulates money measures can be approved only if a majority of votes are in favor, and at least 50 percent of registered voters cast ballots. Critics of the double-majority rule are absolutely right in claiming it's undemocratic because people effectively vote "no" by not voting. In fact, this rule encourages people who oppose a measure not to vote, because that improves the chance it will not reach the 50 percent requirement and fail even if a majority of voters favor it.
The League of Oregon Voters reports that of the 963 local property tax measures voted on from 1997 through 2003, 122 failed because of the double majority requirement. The study noted that 61 of the failed measures drew enough "yes" votes that they would have passed if the 50 percent turnout had been reached - even if every additional voter needed to reach the turnout requirement had voted "no."
The arguments used to pass the double-majority rule are even weaker now. Proponents said it would prevent local officials from sneaking through a tax raise during little-noticed and low turnout elections. That's not an issue anymore with mail ballots. It takes no effort at all to receive all the relevant information about tax measures right at your doorstep. In addition, the measure passed by the Senate would limit money measures to the May primary and November general elections in even-numbered years and the May special election in odd-numbered years.
The argument that people who want to pass money measures should work harder to get more people to vote is backward - if people oppose it they should work harder to get people to defeat it by actually voting!
And don't forget that the double-majority rule was initially championed not by people who cared about fair representation and openness about tax measures, but rather by people eager to pull the plug on education funding, which they viewed as bloated and misspent.
Our state should not - nor should any country that endorses democratic majority rule - endorse or tolerate a law that penalizes voters who are positively engaged in their communities and rewards naysayers for failing to vote.
From its inception this country has relied on the majority voice of its voters to determine the direction of the country, its states and communities. People who decline to vote because of laziness, disinterest, or in the case of the double-majority rule because of cynical advantage, should not be given an even louder voice than those who do.
But that's what this embarrassing and quite possibly unconstitutional law does.
It's time to change it.