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Politics & Government

New Bill Revives Idaho Ballot Initiative Restrictions

Idaho Capitol Dome
Emilie Ritter Saunders
Boise State Public Radio

The Idaho legislature will once again consider a bill to make it harder for residents to get an initiative on the ballot.

Right now, campaign organizers have to hit two benchmarks to put an issue before voters:

  • They have to get signatures from 6% of the number of registered voters in the most recent general election
  • They also need signatures from 6% of registered voters in the most recent general election in 18 of Idaho’s 35 legislative districts.

That works out to a minimum of 64,946 total signatures, with signature totals by district varying across the state.
Sen. Steve Vick’s (R-Dalton Gardens) bill introduced Friday morning would force campaigns to collect that 6% threshold in every legislative district.

“It seems clear to me that as the population of Idaho continues to grow and concentrate in the urban areas, those areas are going to end up making many decisions,” Vick said.

“I think the wisdom of having a broad support of an initiative is worthwhile and that we don’t forget those people who don’t live in the population centers.”

If an initiative does qualify for the ballot, all registered Idaho voters are able to vote for or against it, regardless of where they live.

State lawmakers in Idaho have historically made it harder to get an initiative on the ballot following successful campaigns that weren’t popular at the legislature.

Most recently, when Idahoans expanded Medicaid by 60.6% in 2018, legislative Republicans introduced bills with help from payday loan lobbyists and other special interest groups to make the state’s ballot initiative process among the most restrictive in the country.

Gov. Brad Little “reluctantly” vetoed those proposals due to constitutional concerns and after his office received thousands of calls and emails urging him not to sign them.

In 1994, voters signed off on an initiative imposing term limits on elected officials, which lawmakers overturned in 2002 just before they were to take effect.

After that successful campaign, legislators adopted new restrictions requiring campaigns to get a certain number of signatures in half of Idaho’s 44 counties. Two federal courts found that law to be unconstitutional, as rural counties with smaller populations had an outsized influence over those who lived in more populated counties.

Vick’s bill still needs a public hearing in committee before it could be sent to the Senate floor for consideration.

Follow James Dawson on Twitter @RadioDawson for more local news.

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