The double majority rule -- unconstitutional?
Well, the old double majority rule struck again this week. A number of tax levies in Oregon went down because, although they won a majority of those voting, the measures didn't get a turnout of a majority of those who were entitled to vote. To pass, a tax measure has to get both. State Rep. Dave Hunt (D-Clackamas County) laments this in an e-mail that I got earlier today:
Oregon's "double majority" election requirement struck again this week, overturning the will of voters who passed local measures. In 1996, Ballot Measure 47 had a hidden provision creating the "double majority" voter turnout requirement for local property tax measures. Since then, the double majority rule has unfairly harmed Oregon school districts and other local governments whose residents try to implement essential measures.I've always hoped someone would challenge double majority on constitutional grounds, but I've never heard anyone else even suggest the theory that I (with my limited knowledge) think might be most worth pursuing. So here it is, folks, fire away at it:
In this Tuesday's election, a majority of voters in six communities passed local measures. Because fewer than 50% of registered voters returned their ballots, however, the will of voters was struck down by non-voters in those six communities.
A similar circumstance occurred in May, when the double majority voided eight measures in six Oregon counties -- including a bond passed by 61.6% of Gladstone School District voters who I represent. These measures would have provided essential upgrades to schools, fire districts, sanitation services, and jails.
Since the double majority requirement was introduced, Oregon's vote-by-mail system has been implemented so every registered voter is mailed a ballot for every single election. By having ballots at their home -- and several weeks to complete those ballots -- no Oregon voter has an excuse for missing an election.
During the 2003 and 2005 Legislative Sessions, I was chief sponsor of bills to reform the double majority rule to allow voters to pass local option and bond measures with a simple majority vote in May and November elections. A large bipartisan majority passed SJR 14 this year, but the bill was killed by House leaders without a vote.
The double majority rule deprives people of their constitutional right to vote. Not those who were voting yes, though. My theory is that it deprives people of the right to vote no. If you show up and vote no, and then the measure passes, your showing up to vote no did as much to cause it to pass as it did to cause it to fail. In effect, that's depriving you of your right to vote no.
Crazy? Perhaps, but no crazier than double majority ittself. It would be worth a try. Forget the frustrated proponents of the tax measures that failed. The complaint would be filed on behalf of no voters on measures that passed.