Idaho Initiative Restriction Bill Draws Criticism In Committee Hearing

Feb 19, 2021

Idahoans are once again pushing back against a legislative attempt to make it harder for citizens to get an initiative on the ballot.

The Senate State Affairs Committee Friday signed off on a bill requiring these campaigns to get a certain number of signatures from each of Idaho's 35 legislative districts.

Right now, organizers just need those signatures from half of Idaho’s legislative districts to put an issue to voters.

Sen. Steve Vick (R-Dalton Gardens), who’s sponsoring the bill, said he’s not trying to disenfranchise those who live in cities.

“Urban voters have different interests,” Vick said Wednesday during the first of two days-worth of testimony. “It doesn’t make them less important or more important, but they are, in many cases, different.”

The proposal would make Idaho’s initiative process among the most restrictive in the country.

Out of the 26 states that allow some form of ballot initiative or veto referendum, only Mississippi and Nevada have similar, comprehensive geographic requirements, according to Ballotpedia. Campaigns in Mississippi must get an even split of signatures among the boundaries of its five former U.S. congressional districts.

Idaho and Nebraska are the only two states that set their signature requirements based on the number of registered voters in the previous general election, regardless of whether they cast a ballot. Most states use the total number of votes cast during a recent statewide election.

Most of those who testified on Wednesday and Friday opposed the bill. More than 100 signed up online, though Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett (D-Ketchum) said some were unsuccessful and received an error message.

Garrett Castle, who said he earned his undergraduate degree in statistics, said lawmakers shouldn’t try to hide what he views as their ultimate goal.

“If you’re going to restrict ballot initiatives, do it outright. Don’t do it through statistical impossibility,” Castle said.

Others, including former Reclaim Idaho volunteers who gathered signatures for the group’s successful Medicaid expansion initiative, said this proposal infringes on their constitutional right to put a proposal on the ballot.

Bryan Searle is the president of the Idaho Farm Bureau Federation, which has repeatedly supported further restrictions to ballot initiatives. He said the proposal gives an equal voice to rural voters.

“It makes it so every citizen is important and recognized and every area is,” Searle said.

In 2019, Gov. Brad Little vetoed two similar bills amid intense public opposition to them over constitutional concerns.

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

Copyright 2021 Boise State Public Radio

Member support is what makes local COVID-19 reporting possible. Support this coverage here.