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Elections would be more democratic

Two Views • Should the double-majority rule be amended?
by: Tribune file photo, Measure 56 voters will decide whether to amend the 1996 double-majority rule.

Local control. Majority rule. Self-governance. These are principles of democracy that all Oregonians believe in, and we expect them to be reflected in our election system.

Elections provide that critical link between the will of the people and the vitality of our local communities. Yet under the current election system, local communities often are prohibited from determining how best to provide for their own needs.

Under the double-majority rule, added to the Oregon Constitution in 1996, many important local elections no longer are based on the simple and fundamental democratic principle of 'majority rules.'

Even if a majority of voters supports a measure, it may not become law. That's because under double majority, if fewer than 50 percent of registered voters participate in the election, the measure automatically fails. Effectively, nonvotes are given the same weight as 'no' votes. This is no way to run a fair election.

Measure 56 would restore the basic principles of democracy to our election system. No longer would nonvoters be permitted to unfairly determine election outcomes. Rather, communities would be governed by those who take citizenship seriously enough to participate in the democratic process.

Equally important, Measure 56 would restore confidence in Oregonians' ability to determine how best to satisfy community needs. The current double-majority rule is grounded in a cynical mistrust of Oregonians' sound judgment on matters of local concern.

This is not an abstract concern. Across Oregon, the double-majority rule has prevented communities from solving urgent local problems. More than 165 local measures have failed to meet the double-majority threshold, despite support as high as 78 percent, and turnout in most elections topping 40 percent.

In many of these cases, even if all of the nonvoters required to reach 50 percent had cast 'no' votes, the measure still would have passed.

As a result, services valued by a majority of residents - from veteran services and health care, to education and public safety - have not been provided in a timely and cost-effective manner.

Not only is this bad politics, it's clearly bad business.

The best way to attract new businesses to Oregon is to strengthen our local communities.

None of this is to suggest that low voter turnout is not a real problem in need of serious solutions. In 1998, Oregon voters took the lead in addressing this problem by creating our groundbreaking vote-by-mail system, boosting turnout and producing a more informed electorate.

Oregon's turnout now ranks among the highest of any state with similar registration rules. With turnout on the rise, the double-majority rule is not only unfair, it's unnecessary.

Practical arguments aside, Measure 56 ultimately is about one thing: restoring fairness to local elections. It's time to once again allow our local communities to determine how best to provide for their own needs. Please join me in voting 'yes' on Measure 56.

David Wynde is on the Portland Public Schools Board of Education. He lives in Northeast Portland.