Make simple majority a top issue

Tuesday, we will celebrate and enjoy the

concept of “50 percent, plus one vote.”

At polling places and through mail-in ballots, voters across the state will exercise the privilege of democracy to decide issues as diverse as local legislative races, a multi-billion dollar transportation plan, arcane rules covering the management of pensions for firefighters and police officers, and whether to build a monorail that would snake through downtown Seattle.

For better or worse, simple majority rule will prevail.

But thinking ahead to post-election issues, it’s a good time to remember that there are spheres in Washington democracy in which majority rule does not hold true – specifically, with the passage of operations levies for schools, parks and other “junior” taxing districts.

Thanks to a 1944 Washington constitutional amendment, a relic of the post-Depression legislation, school and park levies must muster a 60 percent “supermajority” to pass. That requirement is precisely what felled the island’s park levy last February – it earned better than 59 percent but still failed, leading to a wasteful second election.

Legislative efforts to lower the threshold for school levies to a simple majority (a constitutional amendment would be required) failed to pick up enough momentum to make the statewide ballot, failing by six votes in the Senate two years ago, and by a single vote in the House this past session.

But we’re glad to report that Bainbridge officials want to keep the issue on the legislative agenda, and to extend it to park levies as well. It was discussed at a meeting of park and school board members 10 days ago, and came up again at Monday’s Intergovernmental Work Group roundtable. Under consideration are resolutions and a joint statement from Bainbridge elected officials, including those from the city and fire department, supporting elimination of the supermajority requirement.

“It’s probably going to take a long time to get something like this through,” park board chair Ken DeWitt told us this week. “We’re just looking at getting the groundwork started, to see if it’s feasible.”

When the issue was taken up by the legislature this past spring, some in Olympia fell back on such bromides as “most school levies pass, eventually” and “it should be hard to raise taxes.” But why should a school levy be held to a higher standard than, say, a $7 billion transportation package? And by our observation, the same interests decrying “wasteful” public spending are content to watch public dollars thrown away by the fistful through needlessly duplicative levy elections.

Legislators will certainly have plenty to occupy their time in the upcoming session, particularly if the state transportation referendum breaks down at the roadside. But we’d love to see our 23rd District contingent – whoever they might be come Jan. 1 – take up the cause to end the supermajority requirement.

And for those who think “50 percent plus one vote” is too low a standard, we say this: We’re about to be led into war by a

president essentially elected by 50 percent minus one vote.

Given the choice, we’d rather have goods schools and parks.

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