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That pesky "majority"....

Tuesday, June 26, 2007
Oregon voters, several years ago, passed what we refer to as the "double majority" law. This law - really an amendment to the Oregon Constitution - simply stated that, in matter of property taxation where the levies were sent to the voters, a majority of voters must vote and a majority of those voting must vote "yes". This is described in HB 2640 (about halfway down the page) where the state House and Senate are trying to repeal this.

Under the 50 percent voter turnout requirement, often referred
to as a 'double majority' requirement, non-votes have the effect
of a 'no' vote if less than 50 percent of qualified voters
participate in the election. An example demonstrates how current
law works. Assume:
Number of qualified voters in jurisdiction: 1,000,000
Voters who voted: 499,999
' Yes' vote: 499,999 (100% of those who voted)
' No' vote: 0
Voters who did not vote: 500,001
Result: Measure fails; non-votes have effect of 'no' vote

I fail to see the problem. Less than 50% of the people wanted to pass this measure. Of course, the opposing scenario is also true, where just over 25% of the people want to pass a measure:

Picture this situation:
Number of qualified voters in jurisdiction: 1,000,000
Voters who voted: 500,001
' Yes' vote: 250,001 (50.0002% of those who voted)
' No' vote: 250,000
Voters who did not vote: 499,999
Result: Measure passes; non-votes have no effect.

See the difference? All that needs to happen is that a majority of voters need to show up before everyone gets assessed with a tax. So where's the problem?

People aren't always voting.

We tend to vote in May and November. In major elections, such as presidential or gubernatorial ones, voter turnout's not much of an issue. However, in off years where we're just getting a notice that "they" want to raise our taxes, there doesn't seem to be much enthusiasm for the democratic process. The double majority protects us from a small but passionate group from imposing fines on the rest of us.

Of course, there are games in politics. I personally haven't voted for a measure because I didn't want it to get the double majority vote; in that case, a "no" vote would have gambled that they DID have a voter majority turnout... but if they didn't, I would have been contributing to it. However, without the law it would be possible to obfuscate and perhaps hide important tax laws and let the aforementioned small but passionate group of voters decide the outcome. Which is more fair?

I guess the ideal solution would be to simply require that a majority of registered voters pass any taxation law. This is like the double-majority rule, inasmuch as a non-vote is a "no" vote, but then even if a slim majority is votes, they must all vote "yes". A very unlikely (but not impossible!) situation.

I understand where the government's coming from; not enough people are voting, and levies aren't being renewed which freaks everyone in the government out. Also, statistics come into play as a "meaningful sample" is collected. However, rather than addressing the root problem of voter apathy, they're simply trying to apply an easy fix. I hope the people of the State of Oregon recognize this and vote "no" accordingly.

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