SALEM &

Oregon's singular "double majority" law is on its way to the ballot &

again.

Though voters have upheld the requirements several times before, Democrats think the time is right for reform, and the state Senate voted 20-9 Wednesday to put the issue on the November 2008 ballot.

The double majority makes it more difficult to pass a property tax increase during elections in March, May, September and odd-numbered Novembers. It requires that at least 50 percent of voters must submit ballots for the election results to be validated.

That means that if only 49 percent of voters bother to cast a ballot, a measure is defeated, even if every single one of those voters has backed the proposal. School districts in particular have been stymied by the turnout requirements when asking voters to back local option levies.

The new proposal would eliminate the double majority requirements for elections in May and November of odd-numbered years. Turnout requirements would still apply for March and September votes.

"You need to make your voice heard," said Sen. Richard Devlin, D-Tualatin. "That is how democracy should work, not by staying home."

Most Republicans, though not all, have argued against the ballot referral.

"The people have already answered this question," said Sen. Jeff Kruse, R-Roseburg. "We shouldn't ask it again."

Republicans also say that cutting back on the turnout requirements increases the chance that local governments will be able to run "stealth" elections at times when voters might not be paying close attention.

But Democrats have said that there's no such thing as a stealth election in Oregon anymore, not with the state's unique vote-by-mail system, in which ballots and voters pamphlets are sent directly to every voter.

The November 2008 ballot in Oregon is shaping up as crowded. In addition to elections for the presidency, the U.S. Senate and several statewide offices, there are also likely to be citizen-backed initiatives on gay rights.

House Majority Leader Dave Hunt, D-Gladstone, who has been a high-profile supporter of election reform, said there will be only a handful of legislatively referred measures on the November ballot, including one on issuing bonds for public school construction projects.

In a 2004 League of Oregon Cities report on property tax election data between 1997 and 2003, 122 tax ballots failed due to the double majority requirement.

The bill moves back to the House for concurrence with Senate changes.

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Eds: The bill is HJR15.