Politics beat bucks in ballot measures battle

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Monday, December 01, 2008

STATEWIDE As the dust settled following November’s election, Oregon taxpayers found themselves on the line for a relatively small price tag for ballot measures. Measure 57, which increased prison sentences and a drug treatment programs, will cost $268 million over the next four years. The combined cost of the eight measures that failed, on the other hand, would have been at least $1.7 billion over the next few years.

Surprisingly, big price tags aren’t what push the majority of Oregonians to vote for or against a measure. Voters who take the time to read about the cost of a measure in an election aren’t insignificant, but they’re still not large enough to make a difference in the final tally, according to Oregon State University political scientist Bill Lunch. What matters is politics: who supports or opposes a measure and how persuasive their arguments are. Sometimes cost figures into that, and sometimes it doesn’t.

“If there isn’t a campaign against a measure, almost anything can pass — ballot measure titles normally sound positive,” Lunch says. “The key to a defeat is the presence of groups who are willing to run a campaign against it.”

And this year there were plenty of groups willing to do exactly that. According to post- election analysis, union organizations spent at least $14 million successfully fighting seven different measures. But it was only the campaign against Measure 61 and its billion-dollar price tag to build new prisons, say Lunch, where cost was a significant part of the opposition’s argument to voters.                    

ABRAHAM HYATT


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