Measures 54 and 55: Yes

In the 21st century, we hope all Oregonians agree that lengthy residency requirements and literacy tests for voters do not belong in the state Constitution. We also think it's only fair that lawmakers who lose their seats to redistricting should be allowed to finish the term they were elected to.

Ballot measures 54 and 55 on the Nov. 4 general election ballot would clear up these two issues, and they deserve to pass.

The measures were referred to voters by the 2007 Legislature.

Measure 54 repeals Article VIII, Section 6 of the Oregon Constitution, which was adopted by voters in 1948 as the result of an initiative. The adopted language sets qualifications for voters in school district elections.

Among those qualifications are that all voters must be 21. That requirement was later superseded by the 26th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which changed the voting age nationwide to 18.

The existing language also required a citizen to have lived in the school district for six months before the election in order to vote. Federal courts have ruled such residency requirements violate the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and the Oregon attorney general ruled the requirement unenforceable 34 years ago.

Finally, Article VIII, Section 6 requires every citizen to be able to read and write English. While the ability to read and write is certainly desirable in a voter, literacy tests were notoriously used in the segregated South to prevent blacks from voting, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 prohibits them as a condition for eligibility to vote.

None of these requirements belongs in Oregon's Constitution. We recommend a yes vote on Ballot Measure 54.

Measure 55 amends the portion of the Constitution that requires legislative districts to be redrawn after each federal census. The Constitution now requires that new district boundaries take effect in the year after each census — 2011 for the 2010 Census, for instance — which means the new boundaries apply in the middle of a legislative term.

This means sitting legislators may be assigned to represent new districts for the remainder of their terms — districts different from those they were elected to represent.

Measure 55 would change the effective date of the new boundaries to the first day of the next regular legislative session, so most legislators would be able to finish their terms representing the same constituents who elected them. Because senators serve four-year terms, some senators would be assigned to represent new districts for the final two years of their terms.

Measure 55 is a reasonable change that restores the principle that voters get to elect their lawmakers. We recommend a yes vote.

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