REEDSPORT — By an overwhelming majority on Tuesday, Reedsport voters decided to toss out the city's double-majority requirement for ballot measures that would raise taxes or fees.
According to unofficial results from the Douglas County Clerk's Office, 71 percent voted no on a city proposal to keep the double majority, where "no" meant the double majority requirement would be eliminated. This was the sole measure before residents in the special election.
Reedsport Mayor Linda McCollum supported getting rid of the double majority, praising those who voted to throw out the requirement.
"I would say thank you for doing that," McCollum said of those who voted to throw out the double-majority mandate. "It ties our hands so greatly."
The double majority requirement, created in 2012 by a ballot initiative to amend the city charter, meant that for a measure involving an increase in taxes or fees to pass in a special election, at least half of the registered voters had to turn out, and at least half of those people had to vote "yes." Reedsport was Oregon's only city with such a requirement.
The original initiative, Measure 10-119, passed 59-41 percent. In November 2014, voters defeated an attempt to undo it, 56-44 percent.
Tuesday's measure title, placed on the ballot by a unanimous vote of the city council, was "Double Majority Allows Non-Voters to Determine Elections," and the ballot question was, "Shall non-voters continue to be a determining factor in City elections?"
McCollum said the double-majority requirement meant that "by not registering, they get a vote."
"We feel this is an important thing — in that it's fair and a little better for our community," the mayor said of the need to toss out the double-majority requirement.
The 2012 measure was scaled back a little by a court, which ruled that the city could raise utility rates enough to meet its loan-payment obligations. But the double-majority requirement stymied the city's May 2015 effort to tax recreational and medicinal marijuana use in the city. In that case the measure failed because just 20 percent of voters turned out, even though 76 percent of them voted in favor of the tax.
McCollum said, "So, in effect, by not voting, they voted no."
Something that would have made it even harder to pass tax or fee increases with the double-majority rule in place was new Oregon legislation that automatically registers people as voters when they get their driver's licenses, creating a new crop of registered voters who might never have any interest in marking a ballot.
"So instead of 1,000 voters, we might have 1,200," she said as an example of the new law.
Former construction contractor Merv Cloe, who supported the original measure, disagreed with McCollum's assessment, saying the double-majority system was working.
"This is as fair a measure as ever existed," Cloe said, referring to the May 2012 proposal. "Instead of working with the people, they (the council) want to fight it."
He expressed his frustration with city leaders, saying "I think it's criminal that these public officials — that they won't work with the people."
"They owe their allegiance to the people of this community."
He took issue with the phrasing of the current system as a "double majority."
"It is not double majority," Cloe said. "That is just a figment of someone's imagination."
Cloe added that the requirement applied only to special elections, and every two years in a general election the 50 percent turnout requirement "does not apply."
"They (citizens) don't want somebody to be spending their money without their permission," the retired contractor said.
Councilor Frank Barth, Jr., who had supported Measure 10-119 in 2012, said Monday night he wouldn't comment on election results, referring all inquiries to City Manager Jonathan Wright.
After voters approved 10-119, Barth was part of a group of four candidates called the New Majority that ran for three council seats and the mayor's position in November 2012 with the objective of upholding 10-119. Of that group, only Barth won his seat.