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October 15th, 2008 WW Editorial Staff | Special Section Stories
 

Measure 56: Double Majority

Vote: Yes

     
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What’s the fuss? In all but the November elections of even-numbered years, passing property-tax measures in Oregon requires two things: At least 50 percent of registered voters must cast a ballot, and a majority of those participants must approve the measure. Essentially, people who don’t vote can cancel out the votes of those who do.

What’s the fix? Return to a simple majority voting system for all May and November elections when property-tax hikes are on the ballot.

Here’s the deal: In 1996, Oregon voters passed Bill Sizemore’s Measure 47, a ballot initiative that amended the constitution to limit property taxes and change the way new levies were approved. Thus was born the “double majority,” the constitutional requirement that local property tax increases need both a majority yes vote and a majority turnout to pass. The one exception: the November general election of even-numbered years when turnout is usually heaviest anyway.

The drive behind the double majority was the concern that local governments and school districts were sneaking tax hike measures on the ballot in off-year elections, when turnout is low and those who voted were the motivated kind who might be more willing to impose levies. It was a legitimate concern, given that turnout for those elections often falls below 50 percent of registered voters.

But the result has been essentially to hamstring school districts, counties, cities and other governments to seek tax dollars—for projects like building new schools—only once every two years. Since the double majority was passed, two significant changes have occurred that persuade us to support its elimination.

The first is the adoption of vote-by-mail. That innovation means every registered Oregon voter now gets a ballot in the mail for every election. There is no excuse for not knowing an election is coming. The second is the rule that all ballots that have measures for raising taxes now indicate that in large type on the envelope.

The double majority has never been fair. It gives Oregonians who don’t vote the power to cancel out the votes of Oregonians who do. But it’s now unnecessary as well.

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Video of WW endorsement interview(thanks to Portland Community Media)

 
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