Lewiston Man Sues Idaho Secretary Of State Over Ballot Initiative Laws

May 16, 2019

Even as state lawmakers have tried to make it exponentially harder to get an initiative on the ballot, one man is suing in federal court to make it easier.

Ryan Isbelle filed his lawsuit against the Idaho Secretary of State’s office in March that forces campaigns to collect signatures from areas across the state.

Before that law passed in 2013, it didn’t matter where you collected signatures – just as long as you got enough to meet the threshold.

“If I signed a petition, no matter where I lived, it was counted as one vote. Each vote moved the petition an equal distance closer,” Isbelle said.

State lawmakers at the time said they wanted to ensure rural voters had more of a say in getting any initiative on the ballot. Isbelle says the legislature could just jack up the number of total signatures needed to force campaigns out of big cities.

“They can make it 25% of registered voters and not have it violate the equal protection clause. It might violate Idaho’s constitution as an onerous burden, but it wouldn’t violate one person, one vote.”

Right now, anyone trying to put an issue directly before voters has to get a certain number of signatures – and they have to come from more than half of Idaho’s legislative districts.

The number of people in those districts is generally equal when the maps are redrawn every 10 years, but Idaho’s population growth isn’t equally spread.

“At any point if the legislative districts vary in population, it is not a good system to set up for ballot initiative access,” Isbelle said.

Earlier this year, state lawmakers passed two bills that opponents argue would’ve made it practically impossible to get an initiative on the ballot, but they were both vetoed by Gov. Brad Little.

The Secretary of State’s office has asked a judge to dismiss the lawsuit and didn’t return a request for comment.

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

Copyright 2019 Boise State Public Radio