Depends on Your Definition of the Word Yes

Thursday, January 21st, 2010

This is a six-month-old story, but I’m not sure why it didn’t make more noise when it happened. Last June, Democrats in the Oregon legislature attempted a nutty little bit of political chicanery. After some anti-tax groups and Oregon Republicans began agitating to put recently passed tax increases to a popular vote, Democrats tried to sneak the following language into the bill:

“A measure referred to the people by referendum petition may not be adopted unless it receives an affirmative majority of the total votes cast on the measure rejecting the measure. For purposes of this subsection, a measure is considered adopted if it is rejected by the people.”

Emphasis mine. Yep. You read that right. They attempted to pass a law defining yes as no, and no as yes. They pulled the language after local media got wind of the cunning plan.

(Via Walter Olson.)

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33 Responses to “Depends on Your Definition of the Word Yes

  1. #1 |  David in Balt | 

    But remember people, if you ever, -EVER- reference 1984 in a political discussion you are obviously bat-shit insane…

  2. #2 |  Aaron | 

    It actually looks like they tried to pass a law defining no as yes, and yes as yes.

  3. #3 |  roy | 

    A few blogs have posted this tongue-in-cheek, but frankly it’s among the worst things I’ve seen politicians try to do.

  4. #4 |  crazygoatidol | 

    Whoever wrote that is surely a cunning linguist.

  5. #5 |  Aresen | 

    got wind of the cunning plan.

    Radley, the devil farts in our faces once more.

    (Apologies to EB)

  6. #6 |  Tim | 

    I think this is just a matter of a tediously legal definition of “adopted” and not something nefarious. To wit, the bold sentence tells us to replace the antecedent phrase “adopted” by “rejected by the people”. Let’s do that:

    “A measure referred to the people by referendum petition may not be _rejected by the people_ unless it receives an affirmative majority of the total votes cast on the measure rejecting the measure.”

    Which makes sense and is basically what you’d expect: to reject the original measure A, the proposed-measure-to-reject B must have a majority vote. The effect is to say that measure A “wins by default” unless it’s affirmatively rejected.

    Basically this is a double negative, and they are using the phrase “adopt” in a technical sense to mean its opposite. I’m not a lawyer so I don’t know why they’re doing this, but the logic seems sound.

  7. #7 |  Tim | 

    OK, maybe having measure A win by default is _still_ a bad thing. I don’t know and I guess it’d depend on the context which I don’t really care about, but it’s not on the level of “black=white” badness.

    So, the cynic asks, why did they change it? Probably because they were embarrassed/shamed by how ugly it looked and it was easier to do that than try to defend their circuitous logic.

  8. #8 |  dave smith | 

    Wow…maybe I could apply that logic to my relationships with women…

  9. #9 |  Tim | 

    dave: not advised. If the media found out about it, you might be labeled a sex offender.

  10. #10 |  Stephen | 

    I usually go vote just to vote “no” to any bond issues. I may vote against the incumbents just for fun.

    Not too long ago we had a bond issue here in the north Dallas suburbs where you had to vote “yes” if you really meant “no”. Can’t remember what it was about, just remember thinking I was in math class trying to keep track of all the pluses and minuses.

  11. #11 |  roy | 

    Tim,

    There’s a potential pronoun problem with your pinterpretation. The last sentence structure is “a measure is … if it is”. Which measure does each clause refer to? If I understand your argument, then “a measure” refers to what you call “original measure A”, and “it” refers to what you call “proposed-measure-to-reject B”.

    But talking good English requires a pronoun to refer to the most recent plausible noun, in which case each clause must refer to the same measure. So either they said “original measure A is considered adopted if original measure A is rejected”, or “proposed-measure-to-reject B is considered adopted if proposed-measure-to-reject B is rejected”. Neither is compatible with democracy or decency.

    Of course it’s not impossible for them to try to express the idea you describe in the words they used. I once used the word “cat” to refer to a dog. It was an honest (drunk) mistake on my part, but listeners would reasonably have concluded that I was talking about a cat unless the noun in question was present and woofing. But there is no such woofing cat to demonstrate that the legislators made an honest error, merely expressing themselves poorly.

  12. #12 |  Michael Chaney | 

    I’m not sure why it didn’t make more noise when it happened. Last June, Democrats

    Gee, I don’t know, Radley, maybe the last word in the quote there has something to do with it.

    . They attempted to pass a law defining yes as no, and no as yes.

    You’re half right. They made no attempt to define “yes” as “no”, only “no” as “yes”. In other words, “heads I win, tails you lose”.

  13. #13 |  goober1223 | 

    #8 | dave smith | January 21st, 2010 at 3:43 pm

    Wow…maybe I could apply that logic to my relationships with women

    I’m pretty sure you mean relations.

  14. #14 |  MacGregory | 

    Politicians do what they want, regardless. When caught pissing on the constitution, they change the definition. “yes, no” matter of opinion isn’t it? That “Constitution” is just a crusty old piece of paper. Those old coots idea of freedom is much different than it should be by our modern beliefs.

  15. #15 |  David | 

    The problem is that the tax hike is referred to as “a measure,” and the proposal to reject the tax hike is referred to as “a measure.” So no matter how the vote goes, one of the measures has passed.

  16. #16 |  Cynical in CA | 

    2+2=5

    /batshit insane

  17. #17 |  kevin | 

    ……”what’s good is bad. What’s bad is good. You’ll find out when you reach the top you on the bottom. Idiot wind, blowing from the Grand Coolie dam to the capitol……We are idiots babe. It’s a wonder we can even feed ourselves.”
    Dylan

  18. #18 |  HCR haterade: maybe it’s simpler than that « Blunt Object | 

    [...] Depends on your definition of the word ‘yes’ (The Agitator) Last June, Democrats in the Oregon legislature attempted a nutty little bit of political chicanery. After some anti-tax groups and Oregon Republicans began agitating to put recently passed tax increases to a popular vote, Democrats tried to sneak the following language into the bill: “A measure referred to the people by referendum petition may not be adopted unless it receives an affirmative majority of the total votes cast on the measure rejecting the measure. For purposes of this subsection, a measure is considered adopted if it is rejected by the people.” Emphasis mine. Yep. You read that right. They attempted to pass a law defining yes as no, and no as yes. [...]

  19. #19 |  b-psycho | 

    Wow, that actually got through my wall of cynicism enough to prompt a “WTF?”…

  20. #20 |  frompdx | 

    Coming from the Democratic stronghold of Oregon, I think there was just a misinterpretation. Here’s why: Rarely if ever do ballots appear in favor of the liberal urban establishment. Nearly all of the referred ballot measures are put forth by a handful of conservative activists and largely supported in only rural Oregon. So this “no as yes” wording really wouldn’t work in favor of those supposedly doing it. And I doubt it would hold up in court, beyond that, since there would be no way to reject a measure. I’m smelling bullshit on this.

  21. #21 |  supercat | 

    This reminds me of a dialog box put up by a certain program when one clicked the “Cancel” button during a lengthy operation:

    . Cancel this operation?

    . OK Cancel

    Sometimes using alternate wording can make things a lot clearer:

    . Cancel this operation?

    . Yes–cancel it No–let it proceed

    Tagging “yes” and “no” choices on referenda might be helpful, though one might have to worry about how the labels were drafted:

    Vote for this bond measure?

    . Yes–Minimal tax effect No–Let cars get swallowed up by potholes the size of Sheboygan.

  22. #22 |  roy | 

    Do you not want to not repeal the adoption of the rejection of the repeal of the cuts?

  23. #23 |  Mo | 

    Isn’t this how Prop 8 worked in CA?

  24. #24 |  bobzbob | 

    This is more RWNJ stupidity, if you read the previous sentence they are talking about a 2nd measure regarding rejecting the first. there is a double negative, if the measure regarding rejection fails, then the original measure is considered adopted – which is of course the appropriate result. Yes it is in legalese, but it does not define yes as no or vice-versa.
    This is a smear job, and as usual radley uncritically repeats it here.

  25. #25 |  damaged justice | 

    Yes it is in legalese

    Then to borrow a page from the anti-immigration folks, they should have written it in fucking English.

  26. #26 |  Boyd Durkin | 

    Clearly this is a failure of the free market and capitalism and more regulation is needed.

  27. #27 |  Sean L. | 

    “It actually looks like they tried to pass a law defining no as yes, and yes as yes.”

    That’s what I thought, too. You need to really think about each phrase to understand it:

    Here’s the original: “A measure referred to the people by referendum petition may not be adopted unless it receives an affirmative majority of the total votes cast on the measure rejecting the measure. For purposes of this subsection, a measure is considered adopted if it is rejected by the people.”

    Replace “A measure referred to the people by referendum petition” with “A ballot measure”
    Replace “may not be adopted” with “will lose”
    IMPORTANT: Keep “unless”
    Replace “it receives an affirmative majority of the total votes cast on the measure rejecting the measure.” with “most people vote against it.”
    Replace “considered adopted” with “passes”
    Replace “rejected by the people” with “most people vote against it.”

    Here’s what you get: “A ballot measure will lose unless most people vote against it. For purposes of this subsection, a measure passes if most people vote against it.”

    Radley has it exactly right. Yes means no, and no means yes.

  28. #28 |  bearing | 

    I try really hard not to have a knee-jerk assumption of bad faith. Just because the folks who wrote that language probably disagree with me politically doesn’t mean that they are automatically trying to hoodwink voters.

    That said:

    I am working very very hard to try to figure out how that language could possibly be inserted in good faith. Tim did the best job possible, but that still doesn’t explain why “adopt” and “reject” are being used interchangeably.

    Could it be that “the measure rejecting the measure” refers to two different measures? Maybe they’re just really, really bad writers.

  29. #29 |  Ric in Oregon | 

    Now of course the tax increases are up for the vote. For some reason the public unions (Teachers et al) are all in favor.

    What happened is the congress and governor passed the budget as if these tax increases already happened AND will meet expectations. (ie no one will close their business, no rich people will move out of state etc)

    And the State government is hiring.

    If you are a Diversity “Something” – manager, administrator, planner, Community Activist – there may be a position just for you.

  30. #30 |  BamBam | 

    #29 is right. The State of Oregon passed their 2010 budget as if Measure 66 and 67 passed (Yes votes are majority). How disgusting is that?

    On another note, trial of cop who beat the crap out of the 15 year old girl in the cell for her flicking her shoe at him ends in MISTRIAL. ????
    http://www.oregonlive.com/news/index.ssf/2010/01/mistrial_declared_in_case_of_k.html

  31. #31 |  Kino | 

    Laws are made for men of ordinary understanding and should, therefore, be construed by the ordinary rules of common sense. Their meaning is not to be sought for in metaphysical subtleties (((which may make anything mean everything or nothing at pleasure. ))))
    ~ T. Jefferson

  32. #32 |  Kino | 

    Bottom line , if the average joe get’s a headache trying to figure out how to vote , to achieve their desired intent , then it’s wrong , and at least one , likely many people should be punched square in the nose …HARD!!!

  33. #33 |  America Is Great and Tax a Tax « The Mike Slater Show | 

    [...] No means yes. [...]

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