Super: How supermajorities influence the legislative process

Supermajorities can shift how the policymaking process functions.

BY TAYLOR BENNETT, DIRECTOR OF COMMUNITY BASED POLICY

Understanding factors that influence the policymaking process can come in handy for any citizen lobbyist, and supermajorities are one such factor. 

If we detour back to civics class, you’ll remember that our democratic system of government has three branches, each of which have the ability to provide checks and balances on the power of the other two. This is a major part of what keeps our democracy healthy. 

One way that these checks and balances can be seen in action is when the governor (executive branch) chooses to veto a bill that the legislature (legislative branch) passed. After the decision to veto is made, the legislature has the ability to override the veto.

However, this system of checks and balances works differently when one party gains enough seats at the legislature.

For example, during the 2020 election cycle, Republicans won a 23-11 majority in the Senate and a 76-24 majority in the House. This gives Republican legislators in both chambers what’s called a supermajority. Some states measure this differently, but in West Virginia that means that at least two thirds of the seats in the Senate and House respectively are occupied by Republican legislators.

Any party can have a supermajority if they win enough seats in an election.

Having a supermajority gives a party additional power when it comes to making checks and balances. Here’s how: 

  • Some decisions can only be made by a vote of two-thirds or more. For example, in order to vote to override a governor’s veto of a budget or appropriations bill, two-thirds of acting legislators must vote to do so.
  • Rules like these are put in place to allow whichever party is in the minority to have a say in the most important decisions being made by the legislative body. However, when one party has a supermajority, the minority party does not have enough votes to influence decisions on which a two-thirds majority vote is necessary.
  • In the example above, everyone from the minority party could vote against overriding a governor’s veto on a budget bill and the override could pass anyway.

 

This means that whichever party has a supermajority has a lot of control over how taxpayer money is spent.

Understanding the many factors that are at play throughout the policymaking process can be challenging. But, when these factors can play such a big role in the policies that are passed, it’s important.


Taylor Bennett is The Hub’s Director of Community Based Policy. You can reach her at t.bennett@wvhub.org.

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