Editorial: Celebrate limits to double-majority rule

Published May 23, 2013 at 05:00AM

Central Oregon voters approved all but one of the money measures on their ballots this week, choosing to support schools, public safety and recreation.

Had this election taken place during the 10-year reign of the original double-majority rule, however, all the measures would have failed.

That’s cause to celebrate changes voters approved in 2008.

Oregon’s double-majority rule was approved in 1996. It required that for a money measure to be approved, a majority of voters must cast ballots, and a majority of those voting must approve the measure. It applied to all votes except November elections in even-numbered years.

The move was one of several efforts to restrict the growth of tax bills, and to assure tax increases couldn’t sneak by during minor elections when voters weren’t paying attention.

Unfortunately it had the perverse effect of giving those who didn’t vote the power to overrule those who did. A non-vote could be even more powerful than a no vote.

Between 1997 and 2007, 169 local tax measures failed statewide because of the restriction, according to the Oregon League of Cities, which reported that 71 of those would have passed even if all the ballots needed to reach 50 percent turnout had been no votes. In Central Oregon, the limitations affected sheriff, fire and 911 levies.

In 2008, voters eliminated the double-majority requirement for elections in May and November, although it remains in effect for other elections, such as those held regularly in March and September.

Turnout in Central Oregon Tuesday hit a high of approximately 44 percent in Jefferson County, with Crook County at 39 percent and Deschutes County at 34 percent. Those are not great turnout numbers, and we’d certainly prefer to have heard from more voters. But we don’t think anybody snuck anything by them. Oregon’s vote-by-mail system assures that all voters get a ballot at their legal addresses.

The 2008 changes mean voters have two opportunities each year — not one every two years — to make tax decisions without being overruled by those who don’t vote. That good result will soon be felt by Central Oregon students, Madras swimmers, and those who need help from 911 or La Pine firefighters.

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