Supermajority Vote Requirements

Most states require a simple majority vote to pass an initiative measure, whether statutory or constitutional in nature. By contrast, a supermajority vote of the legislature is necessary in almost all states to refer to the voters a measure to amend the constitution. All states except Delaware also require a vote of the people to pass a constitutional amendment. Supermajorities are intended to prevent a "tyranny of the majority," and also encourage deliberation and compromise as proponents attempt to gather enough votes to reach a supermajority. Supermajorities in the legislature often are required for constitutional amendments because of the belief that constitutions should not be amended without careful deliberation. Many states also require a supermajority vote of the legislature to increase taxes.

In most states, however, the initiative constitutional amendment process is not subject to the same supermajority vote requirement as the legislature. Some experts question why supermajorities are required of the legislature but not of the people. They point out that the initiative process lacks checks found in the legislature that promote compromise and consensus and suggest that a supermajority vote requirement might help to prevent the passage of initiatives that are supported only by a narrow majority.

The supermajority requirement was challenged in 1997 by the proponents of an initiative that received a simple majority but failed to reach the supermajority requirement (Brady vs. Ohman, 105 F.3d 726 (1998)). The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the challenge and wrote that Wyoming had the right to prevent "... abuse of the initiated process and make it difficult for a relatively small special-interest group to enact its views into law." The case was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which upheld the Circuit Court ruling.

Supermajority States

A handful of states do require a supermajority for passage of a constitutional amendment or statutory initiative. Those states are listed below.

 

Passage Requirement

Applies to

Florida

Any constitutional amendment, whether initiated or referred by the Legislature, must be approved by at least 60% of those voting on the measure. Any proposed constitutional amendment imposing a new state tax or fee must be approved by 2/3 of those the voters in the state voting in the election in which such an amendment is considered.

Constitutional amendments

Illinois

Passage by 3/5 of those voting on the measure, or a majority of those voting in the election

Constitutional amendments

Massachusetts

Passage by majority vote, provided that the total number of votes cast on the initiative equals at least 30% of the total votes cast in the election (e.g., if 100 people vote in the election, at least 30 of them must cast votes for or against an initiative or the initiative fails). 

Statutory initiatives and constitutional amendments

Mississippi

Majority vote, provided that the total number of votes cast on the initiative equals at least 40% of the total votes cast in the election.

Constitutional amendments

Nebraska

Majority vote, provided that the total number of votes cast on the initiative equals at least 35% of the total votes cast in the election

Statutory initiatives and constitutional amendments

Nevada

An initiative constitutional amendment must receive a majority vote in two successive general elections in order to pass

Constitutional amendments

Oregon

Any measure that includes any proposed requirement for more than a majority of votes cast by the electorate to approve any change in law or government action must be approved by at least the same percentage of voters specified in the proposed voting requirement

Statutory initiatives

Washington

Majority vote, provided that the vote cast upon the measure equals at least one-third of the total votes cast at such election

Statutory initiatives

Wyoming

Majority vote, provided that an amount in excess of 50% of those voting in the preceding general election must cast votes on an initiative or the initiative fails

Statutory initiatives

About This NCSL Project

NCSL tracks election and campaign issues in four major categories: campaign finance, election laws and procedures, election results and analysis, and initiative and referendum. We provide comprehensive 50-state research and analysis on a wide variety of topics related to these issues.

For redistricting, NCSL provides similar data that covers redistricting laws, commissions and litigation.

Additionally, NCSL's Redistricting and Elections Standing Committee works on issues that effect all states, including voting technology and redistricting systems and technology.

If you don't find the information you need, please contact our elections team at 303-364-7700 or elections-info@ncsl.org. NCSL staff can do specialized searches for legislators and legislative staff.

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