NON-voters carry big stick in elections

May 22, 2002 11:00 pm

Law enforcement, libraries, schools, fire and ambulance and other government services in local jurisdictions all across Oregon are faced with the prospect of cutting budgets — even though levies were approved at the ballot — because not enough people voted in Tuesday's election.

Oregon's double majority law requires a 50 percent turnout on money measures. People who didn't care enough to vote became the deciding voice in numerous measures. It's a shame because most of those who didn't bother to vote probably care what impact they had on the election and may not know until the services they depend on have been substantially reduced.

THE DOUBLE majority requirement is one of the most ridiculous measures Oregonians have ever approved at the polls. Nowhere in our form of government should there be an allowance for people who don't vote to have an impact on elections. Yet they do at almost every election.

The double majority law needs to be overturned. People who don't care enough to vote ought not to be deciding the outcome of elections.

SURPRISINGLY, our region was an aberration in Tuesday's election. Union eked out an ambulance levy by barely exceeding the 50 percent turnout requirement. Wallowa County can be credited with one of the best turnouts in the state, and voters passed a much-needed school bond in Enterprise and residents at Wallowa Lake formed a fire district.

But elsewhere, library levies passed at the ballot but failed on the double majority. Law enforcement levies passed at the ballot but failed on the double majority. Park levies and school measures failed.

The double majority is another byproduct of one of Oregon's most despised (or loved) anti-tax crusaders. Bill Sizemore brought us the double majority requirement as part of 1996's Measure 47. The Legislature referred a measure in 1998 to repeal the double majority rule, but it was rejected by voters.

SIZEMORE WAS PROBABLY all smiles Tuesday night. God forbid he might need emergency services in one of the counties that will be forced to reduce services because fewer than 50 percent of registered voters cast ballots.

Frankly, it's surprising that the double majority rule hasn't been struck down by the courts. It should be. A democracy provides for majority rule. There should be no provision for a double majority requirement.

The rules for money measures should be no different than those for any matter put before voters. A simple majority based on the results of those who care enough to vote ought to be the deciding factor in elections. Non-voters don't count.

People who decline to vote don't deserve a voice. Democracy is about participation. Our founding fathers would be abhorred if they knew that a majority of people in a state were neglecting their patriotic duty to have a voice in government, yet were determining an election's outcome.