Two of the founders of our country, James Madison and Alexander Hamilton, would have voted No on Tim Eyman’s Initiative 1053 if they were alive today. They spelled out their reasoning in The Federalist Papers in which they discussed the wisdom and necessity of majority rules for voting, instead of requiring a supermajority vote. Their arguments, which helped to frame the majority voting provisions in the US Constitution, are still as relevant today as when they were first written.
Initiative 1053 is an attempt to rewrite the rules by which Washington State Legislators make their decisions and vote. Article II, Section 22 of the Washington State Constitution says the Washington State Legislature shall make decisions by a majority vote. Eyman wants to change this to require that a 2/3 vote is needed by both Houses of the Legislature to pass revenue measures to fund state services or to repeal special interest tax exemptions that only benefit large corporations.
James Madison in The Federalist Papers No 58 had this to say about requiring supermajority votes:
It has been said that more than a majority ought to have been required for a quorum; and in particular cases, if not in all, more than a majority of a quorum for a decision. That some advantages might have resulted from such a precaution, cannot be denied. It might have been an additional shield to some particular interests, and another obstacle generally to hasty and partial measures. But these considerations are outweighed by the inconveniences in the opposite scale. In all cases where justice or the general good might require new laws to be passed, or active measures to be pursued, the fundamental principle of free government would be reversed. It would be no longer the majority that would rule: the power would be transferred to the minority. Were the defensive privilege limited to particular cases, an interested minority might take advantage of it to screen themselves from equitable sacrifices to the general weal, or, in particular emergencies, to extort unreasonable indulgences.
Alexander Hamilton in The Federalist Papers No 22 likewise stated:
what at first sight may seem a remedy, is, in reality, a poison. To give a minority a negative upon the majority (which is always the case where more than a majority is requisite to a decision), is, in its tendency, to subject the sense of the greater number to that of the lesser. …
This is one of those refinements which, in practice, has an effect the reverse of what is expected from it in theory. The necessity of unanimity in public bodies, or of something approaching towards it, has been founded upon a supposition that it would contribute to security. But its real operation is to embarrass the administration, to destroy the energy of the government, and to substitute the pleasure, caprice, or artifices of an insignificant, turbulent, or corrupt junto, to the regular deliberations and decisions of a respectable majority. …
If a pertinacious minority can control the opinion of a majority, respecting the best mode of conducting it, the majority, in order that something may be done, must conform to the views of the minority; and thus the sense of the smaller number will overrule that of the greater, … Hence, tedious delays; continual negotiation and intrigue; contemptible compromises of the public good. And yet, in such a system, it is even happy when such compromises can take place: for upon some occasions things will not admit of accommodation; and then the measures of government must be injuriously suspended, or fatally defeated. It is often, by the impracticability of obtaining the concurrence of the necessary number of votes, kept in a state of inaction. Its situation must always savor of weakness, sometimes border upon anarchy.
These arguments for majority votes still ring true today. Washington State voters should vote NO on Initiative 1053 and uphold our State Constitution.
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