Supermajority

The supermajority meaning is the requirement for a particular measure or legislation to receive significantly more than half of the votes in order for the measure to pass. For example, a supermajority can refer to a three-fifths or two-thirds vote. What this means is that, if two-thirds or three-fifths of the votes cast are in support of a measure to pass, then the measure will pass because there is no tie. To explore this concept, consider the following supermajority definition.

Definition of Supermajority

Noun

  1. A requirement that a measure receive more than half of the votes in order to pass.

Origin

1915

What is Supermajority?

To put it simply, a simple majority is a number of votes above one-half – specifically, a minimum of 51%. Though, for the purposes certain votes in government, a supermajority, or a number significantly greater than one-half is required. For example, a supermajority, as per the U.S. Senate, requires a supermajority of 60% or higher in order to move forward with the majority vote.

An example of supermajority is members of the Senate voting on an issue. If more than 60% of the votes are in favor of a measure, then the supermajority has ruled that the measure should pass. A supermajority is also a “qualified majority,” and supermajorities commonly include three-fifths (60%), two-thirds (67%) and three-quarters (75%) of the votes. These percentages are set by statute.

Types of Supermajority

In the United States, there are three common types of supermajority examples: two-thirds, three-fifths, and, less commonly, three-quarters.

Two-Thirds

The two-thirds vote is one of the more common types of supermajority. A two-thirds vote means that two-thirds or more of the votes are in favor of a measure. For the purpose of a two-thirds vote, absent members do not count. Only the votes of those who are present count toward the total number of votes. However, depending on the issue, the voters sometimes make exceptions, but they must clearly state exactly who voted.

Three-Fifths (60%)

The three-fifths (60%) vote is another of the types of supermajority. The three-fifths (60%) vote works similarly to the two-thirds vote. Also, just as with the two-thirds vote, the three-fifths (60%) vote can include all the organization’s members or just those who are present for the meeting.

Parliamentary Procedure

Parliamentary procedure refers to the specific set of rules that governs organizational meetings. The idea of parliamentary procedure in U.S. government is that any action that can affect the rights of the minority must have a supermajority vote. The term “parliamentary procedure” hails from Europe’s parliamentary system of government. In fact, the U.S. Congress developed its rules based on the parliamentary procedure that governed organizational meetings in Britain.

U.S. Congress

The U.S. Congress uses a supermajority to determine the outcome of its votes. In fact, one of the most memorable terms in U.S. Congress history was from January 1977 to January 1979, wherein the U.S. Congress had its first 60% supermajority in both the House and the Senate. Also notable was that all three super majorities were democratic during a time when the Presidents were democratic as well.

Examples of Supermajority Procedure

What follows are some supermajority examples of how the procedure works when it comes to voting in the U.S. government:

  • In the U.S. Senate, a supermajority vote requires a two-thirds majority, which is 67 votes of a possible 100.
  • The two-thirds majority applies to the House of Representatives as well, which requires 290 of the 435 possible votes.

Additional supermajority examples include those required in order to pass major legislative actions, such as those pertaining to the President. Impeaching a sitting president, declaring a president incapable of continuing to serve as president, and making amendments to the Constitution are all examples of actions that require a supermajority in order to pass.

Supermajority Example Involving the Nuclear Option

The nuclear option is an example of supermajority not determining the outcome, despite having the majority vote. The nuclear option allows the Senate to override their own “60% of the votes” rule by allowing a 51% vote to go through. This is a “simple majority,” rather than a supermajority. The motivation for the “nuclear” in the nuclear option’s name is that it is synonymous with nuclear weapons, which the government only relies upon as an extreme response in times of war. In fact, the nuclear option is a type of parliamentary procedure.

The majority leader can invoke the nuclear option when debating an issue that is not complicated and that only a simple majority needs to decide. When it comes to more complicated issues, however, like creating and passing laws, the Senate cannot rely on the nuclear option. Situations like these still require a three-fifths majority because whatever decision the majority makes also affects the minority.

In November 2013, the Senate relied on the nuclear option to do away with the “60 percent” rule with regard to nominating individuals for the executive branch and the federal court. However, the Senate still requires a supermajority when appointing justices to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Related Legal Terms and Issues

Congress – The legislative branch of the United States federal government, composed of the House of Representatives and the Senate.

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