Low voter turnout in the recent Oregon primary election helped block numerous tax measures throughout the state. For that reason, some people wish to eliminate the 50 percent turnout requirement, which is simply a quorum rule.
To pass certain tax measures during a primary election, 50 percent plus one of those casting ballots must vote in favor of it. Article XI, section 11(8) of the Oregon Constitution states a second condition that must be met: “at least 50 percent of registered voters eligible to vote” must cast a ballot.
This double majority requirement for tax measures placed on the primary year ballot still allows a minority-25 percent plus one-of eligible voters to impose their will on the majority. However, our double-majority rule helps ensure that the tyranny of the minority does not become an even greater tyranny.
Quorum requirements are standard in formal organizations, and are standard throughout our political system. To conduct business in Congress, a majority of U.S. Senators must be in attendance; the same is true for U.S. Representatives. In the Oregon Senate 20 of 30 senators must be present; in the Oregon House it’s 40 of 60 representatives. Three of five Portland City Commissioners are required to conduct business: that’s a 60 percent turnout.
How ironic, then, that Portland Mayor Vera Katz is upset with our state’s constitutional 50 percent quorum requirement. The mayor has raised the possibility of a legal challenge to overturn it; she’s using our tax dollars to investigate that option.
Gutting the quorum rule could give more power to an even smaller minority. The voter turnout requirement for passing tax measures in primary year elections should be left alone; moreover, it should be extended to cover general elections.
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