Impeachment, elected official pay, ranked-choice voting: Lawmakers left big questions to voters

Oregon lawmakers will ask voters to weigh in on big questions in 2024, including how voting will work, whether lawmakers should be able to impeach top officials and whether elected officials should receive raises. 

Before the legislative session ended in late June, lawmakers voted to send three proposed laws to voters on their November 2024 ballots. 

More referrals could be coming. A majority of Democratic lawmakers support an effort to change constitutional quorum requirements for the House and Senate to prevent future walkouts like the one that just stalled the Legislature for six weeks. While that effort didn’t gain traction at the end of session, Rep. Khanh Pham, D-Portland, told the Capital Chronicle she would try again if necessary during the 2024 legislative session. Two-thirds of lawmakers must be present for either chamber of the Legislature to do business, unlike many states that require a simple majority.

Citizen groups are also working hard to put their own new laws on the ballot. Groups have so far filed 35 petitions to create new campaign finance laws, allow gun owners to carry concealed weapons without permits, expand the state House from 60 to 300 members, freeze property taxes for seniors and allow marijuana industry workers to unionize, among other proposals. Those citizen lawmakers have until next summer to gather tens of thousands of signatures from voters and make the ballot. 

Here’s a look at the big questions voters will see on their November 2024 ballots:

Should Oregon change the way it votes?

Voters in Benton County, as well as Maine, Alaska and other local jurisdictions around the country, already use ranked-choice voting. Instead of voting for a single candidate, voters rank every candidate on a ballot.

If a candidate wins a majority of first-place votes, they win the election. Otherwise, the candidate with the fewest number of first-place votes is eliminated and votes from the people who liked that candidate best are reallocated to their second-place pick. That continues until one candidate receives a majority. 

Voters will decide in 2024 whether to implement ranked-choice voting statewide, in primary and general elections for statewide offices, Congress and president. Local governments could adopt the practice but wouldn’t have to, and legislative races wouldn’t be included.

House Speaker Dan Rayfield, D-Corvallis, sponsored House Bill 2004, the proposal that would establish ranked choice voting if voters approve it. He said he hopes legislators will eventually be included. 

Ranked choice voting would first be used in the primary election in 2028 if voters approve it. 

Should lawmakers be able to impeach statewide officials?

Lawmakers in 49 states and Congress have the ability to impeach elected officials. Oregon is the only outlier.

That would change if voters approve a constitutional amendment in House Joint Resolution 16, which passed the House and Senate unanimously in June. It would allow the state House to impeach a statewide official, such as the governor, treasurer or secretary of state, by a two-thirds vote.

The official would then face a trial in the state Senate, presided over by the chief justice of the Oregon Supreme Court. A two-thirds vote by the Senate to convict could result in removing that official. 

Lawmakers said the proposal isn’t tied to any one incident or elected official, but the proposal didn’t advance until after former Secretary of State Shemia Fagan resigned in May following revelations that she worked a $10,000-per-month side job for a marijuana company that helped shape an audit her office conducted of the state agency that regulates the cannabis industry. 

Should it be easier for elected officials to get raises?

Salaries for some Oregon elected officials are among the lowest in the country and haven’t increased in years. Senate Joint Resolution 34, which passed with broad bipartisan support near the end of the session, would ask voters to amend the constitution to set up a new commission that could give public officials raises. 

A commission existed from 1983 until 2017, but it rarely met and only had the authority to recommend salaries that the Legislature had  to approve. If voters approve the proposed constitutional amendment, a new commission would be able to approve and set salaries, automatically appropriating the money needed to pay those wages from the state General Fund. 

The commission would set salaries for the governor, secretary of state, treasurer, attorney general; Bureau of Labor and Industries commissioner, legislators, Supreme Court justices, other state judges and district attorneys. Elected officials, state employees, lobbyists and family members would not be allowed to serve on the commission. 

“This is critically important to allow the people of Oregon to decide compensation for elected officials versus elected officials determining that compensation for themselves, which is obviously an inherent conflict,” said Senate Minority Leader Tim Knopp, R-Bend, during a brief discussion about the bill on the Senate floor on June 21. 

Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum’s $82,200 salary is the lowest for attorneys general in the nation. Gov. Tina Kotek’s $98,600 salary is lower than that of governors in every state but Maine, Colorado and Arizona. Treasurer Tobias Read and Secretary of State LaVonne Griffin-Valade each make $77,000, less than their counterparts everywhere but Wisconsin and Arizona. 

Oregon lawmakers fall in the middle of the pack, with an annual salary of $35,052, and a daily subsistence allowance of $157 during the legislative session. Democratic lawmakers have tried in recent years to raise their pay, saying it’s necessary to attract a more diverse group of legislative candidates, but those efforts never panned out. 

Oregon Capital Chronicle is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Oregon Capital Chronicle maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Lynne Terry for questions: [email protected]. Follow Oregon Capital Chronicle on Facebook and Twitter.

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Julia Shumway is deputy editor of Oregon Capital Chronicle and has reported on government and politics in Iowa and Nebraska, spent time at the Bend Bulletin and most recently was a legislative reporter for the Arizona Capitol Times in Phoenix. An award-winning journalist, Julia most recently reported on the tangled efforts to audit the presidential results in Arizona.