We've tried it, and it's failed
- Ken Allen
- Portland Tribune - Opinion
MY VIEW • High bar of double majority needs to be repealed
Nationally, Oregon has always been a leader, with a government that's willing to take chances and try new ideas. Vote by mail was one such idea, and it's been a good one - several states now are in the process of copying our law.
Senate Joint Resolution 10 is another good idea. Currently on the Oregon Senate Finance and Revenue Committee's docket, SJR 10 would eliminate most of the double majority requirements that plague Oregon election law.
The double majority has not been a good idea - and it's OK for us to collectively admit that. At the very least, the concept deserves another round of statewide debate, and that's what SJR 10 would do.
Before we speak on the merits of the measure, let's make one point clear: SJR 10 doesn't change the law. If passed, SJR 10 would call on Oregonians to once again consider the issue at the ballot box.
After several years of dealing with the consequences of the double majority, we believe it's an opportunity most Oregonians would welcome.
Here's a quick history lesson: The double majority was the brainchild of anti-taxes, anti-union Bill Sizemore. The double majority law says that any property tax increase must both be approved by a 50 percent majority of voters and that at least 50 percent of those registered to vote must do so.
In other words, if there's only a 49 percent voter turnout, there's no need to even count the ballots. It doesn't matter if 99 percent of those who took the time to vote said 'Yes.'
In essence, every single person in the 51 percent who didn't vote is counted as a 'No' - that's not right.
Sizemore and other proponents love to compare the double majority to the concept of a quorum. If a quorum of a city council isn't seated, they argue, that body can't conduct business. That argument may sound OK on first glance, but you have to consider where we live.
In 2007, the quorum concept doesn't hold water in vote-by-mail Oregon. Here, a full 100 percent quorum is reached in every election, because every registered voter receives a ballot and has more than two weeks to return it.
You don't have to worry about the difficulty of getting to a polling place if you're handicapped or disabled, you don't need to worry about bad weather or having the flu on Election Day. Every voter is 'in the room' once he or she receives their ballot.
Once that ballot is in your hand, it's your responsibility to participate. Indeed, as mentioned, the biggest argument against the double majority is the fact that people who don't vote are in essence counted as 'No' votes. That includes people who have moved, people who have died or others who, for whatever reason, aren't off each county's election rolls.
The double majority has a history now, and it's not a good one. We've seen proposed levies easily pass a majority of those who vote, only to be vetoed by those who didn't.
The double majority is a slap in the face of the fundamental tenets of democracy, and, again, Oregon's unique vote-by-mail system erases its proponents' biggest sound bite.
Please note SJR 10 doesn't change everything. If you're concerned about jurisdictions trying to sneak levies in off-cycle elections, that part of the law wouldn't change. Property-tax elections still would have to be held on regular primary and general election dates.
We encourage you to contact your state legislators and urge them to make SJR 10 a priority this session. We need to open the door for a full examination of this important topic once again.
Ken Allen is executive director of Oregon Council 75 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents more than 27,000 workers in Oregon and more than 1.3 million nationally.