Let's not forget why we got rid of the double majority requirement

Paul Gronke

Professor Jim Moore of Pacific University had this unfortunate quote in today's Portland Tribune::

“If we get a turnout of 30 percent, then this makes the argument about why we should’ve kept (the double-majority law),” Moore says. “(The measure) will have won or lost with 16 percent of the electorate.”

The double-majority is bad politics and bad political science.

It's bad politics because it enshrines into election law a particular political ideology about taxes. Certain property tax elections, unlike any other election including constitutional changes, are only legitimate if more than 50% of the registered voters participate.

It's bad political science because the double-majority counts an abstention the same as a "no" vote. Thus, to pass a tax increase under a double-majority requirement, you need 50% of all registered voters to vote and at least half of those (at least 25% + 1) to cast a "yes" vote (thanks Darrell for the catch). But to defeat a tax increase, you can try to win on the ballot or you can try to suppress turnout. In fact, under the double majority, a non-vote is more powerful than a "no" vote because a "no" vote counts toward the 50% turnout threshold.

Why would anyone want to institute election laws that incentivize non-voting?

As Greg Macpherson wrote in 2008:

The requirement of majority turnout does not apply to any other kind of election. It was imposed on local property tax proposals simply to make it harder to pass them. A number of local property tax proposals in Oregon have received a strong majority of yes votes, but failed because a majority of registered voters did not turn out.

The double-majority requirement also creates a perverse incentive not to vote. For those who oppose a property tax proposal that is not presented at a general election, the best strategy is typically not to return a ballot. By keeping turnout below 50 percent, opponents can defeat a proposal that a majority of voters support.

If the PPS bond measure passes with 30% turnout, it's an example of why we got rid of the double-majority, not a reason to reinstitute it.

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    Paul, you post asserts, "to pass a tax increase under a double-majority requirement, you need 50% of all registered voters to cast a "yes" vote." That's not quite accurate, is it, or do I misunderstand?

    As I understand it, to pass something at least 50 percent plus one voter would need to cast a vote and at least 50 percent plus on of those casting a vote would have to vote yes. To me, that adds up to at least 25 percent plus one of the registered voters having to vote in the affirmative to pass a tax increase.

    Is my math off? Yes, you could get 25 percent plus one and still lose if less than 50 percent plus one cast a vote, but I don't think it is correct to assert you need a 50 percent plus one "yes" vote to pass something.

    Am I missing something?

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    Thanks, Paul! I would expect this kind of nonsense from Jim Moore. I'm glad you have taken the time to knock it down. Giving non-voters a vote is absolutely undemocratic and the height of irresponsibility in a political system.

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    The double majority law was an attempt to overturn "80% of success is showing up."

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    Well...here's something on which Professor Gronke and I totally agree!

    Cheers, Paul.

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    Paul, well said.

    It took us three sessions of trying, but the double majority reform that the Legislature passed in 2007 (and voters affirmed in 2008) has restored democracy to all May and November elections in Oregon.

    No longer can opponents of a local option or bond measure simply encourage voters to withhold their ballot (and therefore veto the measure under the double majority requirement). Now, opponents must actually participate in an election to have their vote counted.....a novel idea in a democracy!

    Dave Hunt, State Representative & House Democratic Leader

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    The problem that the double majority solved was special elections held just to pass an increase in property taxes. The vast majority of those voting were supporters. The rest of the population weren't paying attention, and failed to participate. These special elections were also held during months like August when people did not expect them. Those sneaky elections angered many people, and played a significant role in the passage of the double majority.

    I would be happy to see the double majority go away as long as tax increase measures can only be held as part of a general election when we have strong participation rates.

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      You're claiming that somehow tax increases are more important than any other measure that shows up on the ballot, so have special requirements. One could argue the same thing for any other vote. Maybe all elections should be thrown out unless there is a 50% turnout. Then it would be fair. Otherwise it's just a way to stamp out democracy.

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