A measure on the Clackamas County ballot to require elections before funding can go to public rail systems passed by 60 to 40 percent on Tuesday, according to early returns.

More than a third of the county’s registered voters turned out for the special election Tuesday.

On the Friday before the election, Clackamas County officials funded a $19.9 million payment to the Portland-Milwaukie light-rail project through a 20-year Bank of America loan at 2.74 percent interest. The county says that the measure will have no effect on its TriMet payment agreed to by a 3-1 vote of commissioners on Aug. 22. Although the Oregon Supreme Court on Sept. 12 dismissed a restraining order on the payment, petitioners for Measure 3-401 plan to leverage the election results to overturn the TriMet agreement.

“This is a clear mandate that the people wanted a right to vote and the commission went behind our backs,” said Jim Knapp, the Oak Grove resident who began the drive for Measure 3-401 and has begun gathering signatures for a referendum against the Aug. 22 decision. “The disrespect that Bank of America and the county commissioners who support this loan have shown for voters and taxpayers is simply breathtaking.”

Measure opponent Mike Swanson worried that rail “operations” votes required by the measure will trigger arguments about elections involving a wide range of county activities near rail lines.

“They wanted to catch the $20 million and what they’re going to do is catch all these little fish, and that’s the irony of this ballot measure,” Swanson said.

Swanson, a former Clackamas County administrator (1986-95) and Milwaukie city manager (2000-10), argued that holding a single-issue, special-interest election is costly and should be used when there is no other way, especially when the county is struggling to meet its basic needs. Swanson said rail opponents could have waited less than two months until the general election, saving that $125,000 election cost for two police officers for an entire year, for example.

“I’ve been disturbed both nationally and locally about what the Tea Party has been doing to try to handcuff government,” Swanson said. “All this is going to do is require a whole lot of extra lawyers because there will be all sorts of questions that arise.”

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