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A supermajority, or a qualified majority, is a requirement for a proposal to gain a specified level of support which is greater than the threshold of one half used for majority.
Related concepts regarding alternatives to the majority vote requirement include a majority of the entire membership and a majority of the fixed membership.
A supermajority can also be specified based on the entire membership or fixed membership rather than on those present and voting.
- 1 History
- 2 Common supermajorities
- 3 Related concepts
- 4 Use in parliamentary procedure
- 5 Use in governments around the world
- 6 See also
- 7 References
In the Democratic Party of the United States, the determination of a presidential nominee once required the votes of two-thirds of delegates to the Democratic National Convention. This rule was adopted in the party's first presidential nominating convention—the 1832 Democratic National Convention. The two-thirds rule gave southern Democrats an effective veto over any presidential nominee for many years, until the rule's abolition at the 1936 Democratic National Convention.
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A majority vote, or more than half the votes cast, is a common voting basis. Instead of the basis of a majority, a supermajority can be specified using any fraction or percentage which is greater than one-half (i.e., 50%). It can also be called a qualified majority. Common supermajorities include three fifths (60%), two thirds (67%), and three quarters (75%).
A two-thirds vote, when unqualified, means at least two-thirds of the votes cast. This voting basis is equivalent to the number of votes in favor being at least twice the number of votes against. Abstentions and absences are excluded in calculating a two-thirds vote. When unqualified, a two-thirds vote only applies to those present and voting.
The two-thirds requirement can be qualified to include the entire membership of a body instead of only those present and voting, but such a requirement must be explicitly stated (such as "two-thirds of those members duly elected and sworn"). In this case, abstentions and absences count as votes against the proposal.
Alternatively, the voting requirement could be specified as "two-thirds of those present", which has the effect of counting abstentions but not absences as votes against the proposal.
For example, say an organization has 150 members and at a meeting, 30 members are present with 25 votes cast. In this case, a "two-thirds vote" would be 17. If the requirement was "two-thirds of those present", that number would be 20. "Two-thirds of the entire membership" would be 100.
Three-fifths, or 60 percent
Similar to the use of "two thirds", "three fifths", or 60 percent, could be specified in the voting requirement. This requirement could also be qualified to include the entire membership or to include those present.
For the Montenegrin independence referendum held in 2006 the European Union envoy Miroslav Lajčák proposed independence if a 55% supermajority of votes are cast in favor with a minimum turnout of 50%. Such procedure, ultimately accepted by the government of Montenegro, was somewhat criticized as overriding the traditional practice of requiring a two-third supermajority, as practiced in all ex Yugoslav countries before (including the previous referendum in Montenegro).
Related concepts regarding alternatives to the majority vote requirement include a "majority of the entire membership" and a "majority of the fixed membership".
Majority of the entire membership
A majority of the entire membership is a voting basis that requires that more than half of all the members of a body (including those absent and those present but not voting) vote in favor of a proposition in order for it to be passed. In practical terms, it means an absence or an abstention from voting is equivalent to a "no" vote. It may be contrasted with a majority vote which only requires more than half of those actually voting to approve a proposition for it to be enacted. An absolute majority may also be the same as a majority of the entire membership, although this usage is not consistent.
In addition, a supermajority could be specified in this voting basis, such as a vote of "two-thirds of the entire membership".
By way of illustration, in February 2007 the Italian Government fell after it won a vote in the Italian Senate by 158 votes to 136 (with 24 abstentions). The government needed an absolute majority in the 318 member house but fell two votes short of the required 160 when two of its own supporters abstained.
Majority of the fixed membership
A majority of the fixed membership is based on the total number of the established fixed membership of the deliberative assembly. It is used only when a specific number of seats or memberships is established in the rules governing the organization.
A majority of the fixed membership would be different from a majority of the entire membership if there are vacancies.
For example, say a board has 12 seats. If the board has the maximum number of members, or 12 members, a majority of the entire membership and a majority of the fixed membership would be 7 members. However, if there are two vacancies (so that there are only 10 members on the board), then a majority of the entire membership would be 6 members (more than half of 10), but a majority of the fixed membership would still be 7 members.
It is possible for organizations that use a majority of the fixed membership to be caught in a stalemate if at least half the membership consists of vacancies, making it impossible to perform any actions until those vacancies are filled. The requirement for a minimum number of members to be present in order to conduct business, called a quorum, may be used to avoid such a possibility.
Similar to the voting basis for the entire membership, a supermajority could be specified for this basis, such as a vote of "two-thirds of the fixed membership".
Use in parliamentary procedure
As a compromise between the rights of the individual and the rights of the assembly, the principle has been established that a two-thirds vote is required to adopt any motion that: (a) suspends or modifies a rule of order previously adopted; (b) prevents the introduction of a question for consideration; (c) closes, limits, or extends the limits of debate; (d) closes nominations or the polls, or otherwise limits the freedom of nominating or voting; or (e) takes away membership.
This book also states:
The vote of a majority of the entire membership is frequently an alternative to a requirement of previous notice, and is required in order to rescind and expunge from the minutes (see p. 310). Otherwise, prescribing such a requirement is generally unsatisfactory in an assembly of an ordinary society, since it is likely to be impossible to get a majority of the entire membership even to attend a given meeting, although in certain instances it may be appropriate in conventions or in permanent boards where the members are obligated to attend the meetings.
Use in governments around the world
In Canada, most constitutional amendments can be passed only if identical resolutions are adopted by the House of Commons, the Senate and two thirds or more of the provincial legislative assemblies representing at least 50 percent of the national population.
Article 20 of the Constitution of Denmark states that if the government or parliament wants to cede parts of national sovereignty to an international body such as the European Union or the United Nations, it has to get a five sixths majority in the Folketing (150 out of 179 seats). If the government or parliament are only able to get a simple majority, they have to hold a referendum on the question.
The Council of the European Union uses 'Qualified majority voting' for the majority of issues brought before the institution. However for matters of extreme importance for individual member states, unanimous voting is implemented.
After the accession of Croatia, on 1 July 2013, at least 260 votes out of a total of 352 by at least 15 member states were required for legislation to be adopted by qualified majority.
From 1 July 2013, the pass condition translated into:
- At least 15 (or 18, if proposal was not made by the Commission) countries,
- At least 260 of the total 352 voting weights,
- At least 313.6 million people represented by the states that vote in favour.
Requirements to reach an absolute majority is a common feature of voting in the European Parliament (EP) where under the ordinary legislative procedure the EP is required to act by an absolute majority if it is to either amend or reject proposed legislation.
The Article 368 of the Indian Constitution requires a supermajority of two-thirds of members present and voting in each house of Indian Parliament, subject to at least by a majority of the total membership of each House of Parliament, to amend the constitution. In addition, in matters affecting the states and judiciary, at least one half of all the states need to ratify the amendment.
The Rome Statute may only be amended by a seven-eighths majority of participating states.
The British Parliament can be dissolved and an election held before the expiry of its 5-year term by a vote of two-thirds of the membership of the House of Commons.
This is the only supermajority required in the British Constitution.
However, Parliament can also be dissolved if the House of Commons passes a motion of no-confidence in the government and no new government wins a motion of confidence within two weeks of the original vote of no-confidence.
The United Nations Security Council requires a supermajority of the fixed membership on substantive matters (procedural matters require a simple majority of those present and voting). According to Article 27 of the United Nations Charter, at least nine of the Security Council's 15 members (i.e., a three-fifths supermajority) must vote in favor of a draft resolution in order to achieve passage. Specifying the fixed membership has the effect of making abstentions count as votes against—absences are not normal but would be treated the same way.
This is useful for the five permanent members of the Council (the United States, the Russian Federation, the People's Republic of China, the United Kingdom, and France) because a vote against from any one of them constitutes a veto, which cannot be overridden. Permanent members who do not support a measure, but are unwilling to be seen to block it against the wishes of the majority of the Council, tend to abstain; abstentions by veto powers are generally seen by close observers of the UN[according to whom?] as the equivalent of not vetoing votes against and have the same impact on the decision of the Security Council.
The Constitution of the United States requires supermajorities in order for certain significant actions to occur.
Amendments to the Constitution may be proposed in one of two ways: a two-thirds supermajority votes of each house of Congress or a convention called by Congress on application of two thirds (currently 34) of the states. Once proposed, the amendment must be ratified by three quarters (currently 38) of the states.
A treaty may be ratified by a two-thirds supermajority of the Senate.
Section 4 of the Twenty-fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution gives Congress a role to play in the event of a presidential disability. If the vice president and a majority of the president's cabinet declares that the president is unable to serve in that role, the vice president becomes acting president. Within 21 days of such a declaration (or, if Congress is in recess when a president is disabled, 21 days after Congress reconvenes), Congress must vote by two-thirds supermajorities to continue the disability declaration; otherwise, such declaration expires after the 21 days and the president would at that time "resume" discharging all of the powers and duties of the office. While Section 3 of this amendment (in which the president declares that they are unable to discharge the powers and duties of the Presidency) has been invoked three times, Section 4 has yet to be invoked.
The House may, by a simple majority vote, impeach a federal official (such as the president, vice president, or a federal judge). Removal from office (and optional disqualification from any Federal, State or local office) requires a two-thirds supermajority of the Senate. In 1842, the House failed to impeach president John Tyler. In 1868, the Senate fell one vote short of removing president Andrew Johnson following his impeachment. In 1999, efforts to remove Bill Clinton following his impeachment in 1998 fell just short of a simple majority, and 17 votes short of the two-thirds supermajority. The impeachment procedure was last used in 2010, when Judge Thomas Porteous was removed from office. Each chamber may expel one of its own members by a two-thirds supermajority vote; this last happened when the House expelled James Traficant in 2002.
A two-thirds supermajority in the Senate is 67 out of 100 senators, while a two-thirds supermajority in the House is 290 out of 435 representatives. However, since many votes take place without every seat in the House filled and representative participating, it does not often require 67 senators or 290 representatives to achieve this supermajority.
Apart from these constitutional requirements, a Senate rule (except in cases covered by the nuclear option, or of a rule change) requires an absolute supermajority of three fifths to move to a vote through a cloture motion, which closes debate on a bill or nomination, thus ending a filibuster by a minority of members. In current practice, the mere threat of a filibuster prevents passing almost any measure that has less than three-fifths agreement in the Senate, 60 of the 100 senators if every seat is filled.
For state legislatures in the United States, Mason's Manual says, "A deliberative body cannot by its own act or rule require a two-thirds vote to take any action where the constitution or controlling authority requires only a majority vote. To require a two-thirds vote, for example, to take any action would be to give to any number more than one-third of the members the power to defeat the action and amount to a delegation of the powers of the body to a minority." Some states require a supermajority for passage of a constitutional amendment or statutory initiative.
Many state constitutions allow or require amendments to their own constitutions to be proposed by supermajorities of the state legislature; these amendments must usually be approved by the voters at one or more subsequent elections. Michigan, for instance, allows the Legislature to propose an amendment to the Michigan Constitution; it must then be ratified by the voters at the next general election (unless a special election is called).
In most states, the state legislature may override a governor's veto of legislation. In most states, a two-thirds supermajority of both chambers is required. However, in some states (e.g., Illinois, Maryland and North Carolina), only a three-fifths supermajority is required, while in West Virginia only a normal majority is needed.
One common provision of so-called "taxpayer bill of rights" laws (either in state statutes or state constitutions) is a requirement of a supermajority vote in the state legislature to increases taxes. The National Conference of State Legislatures reported in 2010 that fifteen states required a supermajority vote (either a three-fifths, two-thirds or three-fourths majority vote in both chambers) to pass some or all tax increases. Supermajority requirements for tax increases have been criticized as "deeply flawed" by a Center on Budget and Policy Priorities report, since such requirements make it difficult to close tax loopholes, empower a minority of legislators, make it difficult to fund transportation infrastructure, and may encourage pork-barrel spending as a trade-off to ensure passage of a tax increase (see logrolling).
- Double majority
- Voting in the Council of the European Union—described the "qualified majority voting" requirement in that body
- Schwartzberg, Melissa (2013). "Prelude: Acclamation and Aggregation in the Ancient World - The Origin of Supermajority Rules". Counting the Many: The Origins and Limits of Supermajority Rule. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 44. ISBN 978-0-521-19823-3. Retrieved 2016-12-05.
- Schwartzberg (2013), pp. 51, 58–59.
- Bensel, Richard Franklin (2008). Passion and Preferences: William Jennings Bryan and the 1896 Democratic Convention. Cambridge University Press. p. 131.
- Schulman, Bruce J. (1994). From Cotton Belt to Sunbelt: Federal Policy, Economic Development, and the Transformation of the South, 1938–1980. Duke University Press. p. 45..
- See dictionary definition of "supermajority" at thefreedictionary.com. "Qualified majority" redirects to this definition.
- Schermers, Henry G.; Blokker, Niels M. (2011). International Institutional Law: Unity Within Diversity (Fifth Revised ed.). Leiden, The Netherlands: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers. pp. 561–563. ISBN 978-90-04-18798-6.
- Robert, Henry M.; et al. (2011). Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised (11th ed.). Philadelphia: Da Capo Press. p. 401. ISBN 978-0-306-82020-5..
- "Frequently Asked Questions about RONR (Question 5)". The Official Robert's Rules of Order Web Site. The Robert's Rules Association. Retrieved December 30, 2015.
- Robert (2011), p. 406.
- Robert (2011), p. 402.p
- "Frequently Asked Questions about RONR (Question 6)". The Official Robert's Rules of Order Web Site. The Robert's Rules Association. Retrieved December 30, 2015.
- Robert (2011), p. 403.
- "Colorado Imposition of Distribution and Supermajority Requirements for Citizen-Initiated Constitutional Amendments, Amendment 71 (2016)". Ballotpedia. Retrieved 15 January 2017.
- "Absolute majority of members (European Parliament)". EUAbc.com. Retrieved June 22, 2011.
- Hooper, John (February 22, 2007). "Prodi stands down after surprise defeat in senate over US alliance". The Guardian. Retrieved June 22, 2011.
- Robert (2011), p. 404.
- Pedersen, Susannah; Christensen, Jens Peter (November 2015). "03 - Regeringen". Min grundlov - Grundloven med forklaringer (PDF) (13 ed.). Folketingets Kommunikationsenhed. pp. 27–28. ISBN 87-7982-172-3.
Til vedtagelse af lovforslag herom kræves et flertal på fem sjettedele af Folketingets medlemmer. Opnås et sådant flertal ikke, men dog det til vedtagelse af almindelige lovforslag nødvendige flertal, og opretholder regeringen forslaget, forelægges det folketingsvælgerne til godkendelse eller forkastelse efter de for folkeafstemninger i §42 fastsatte regler.
- See Article 294(7) of the Treaty on the functioning of the European Union.
- "The Constitution of Japan". japan.kantei.go.jp. Retrieved December 30, 2015.
- "The Tyranny of the Minority in South Korea". The Diplomat. Retrieved December 30, 2015.
- National Conference of State Legislatures (2000). Mason's Manual of Legislative Procedure, 2000 ed., p. 353
- "Supermajority Vote Requirements". www.ncsl.org. National Conference of State Legislatures. Retrieved December 31, 2015.
- "Article XII § 1". Constitution of Michigan of 1963. Michigan Legislature. Retrieved December 30, 2015.
- Shanton, Karen (October 28, 2013). "Wrapup of Veto Overrides in States with Veto-Proof Legislatures and Divided Government". NCSL Blog. National Conference of State Legislatures.
- Friedman, Dan (2006). The Maryland State Constitution: A Reference Guide. Reference Guides to the State Constitutions of the United States, No. 41. Praeger. p. 75.
- Lousin, Ann M. (2011). The Illinois State Constitution. Oxford Commentaries on the State Constitutions of the United States. Oxford University Press. pp. 119–21.
- "North Carolina State Constitution". Retrieved May 3, 2016.
- Waisanen, Bert (2010). "State Tax and Expenditure Limits—2010". National Conference of State Legislatures.
- Johnson, Nicholas (April 25, 2006). "A Super Bad Idea: Requiring a Two-thirds Legislative Supermajority to Raise Taxes Protects Special Interest Tax Breaks and Gives Budget Veto Power to a Small Minority of Legislators". Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.