Another Effort To Silence You

Over and over, some Idaho legislators have demonstrated a desire to silence voters.  They have expressed that by, in each recent legislative session, adding more and more restrictions on our right to vote.  This year, besides continuing to make voting ever more difficult, some legislators are trying, again, to prevent successful voter initiatives.

​The Idaho Constitution confers on Idahoans the right to enact laws by initiative.  Idaho’s requirements to qualify an initiative for the election ballot are among the toughest in the nation, but since the successful 2018 initiative that expanded Medicaid for low-income citizens, some legislators have been trying to void this constitutional right by imposing additional requirements so stringent that any initiative would inevitably fail. In 2021, the Idaho Supreme Court struck down one such enactment because it imposed requirements so draconian that they were all but impossible to fulfill.  The Court held that those impediments violated Idahoans’ fundamental right to make law by initiative.  

​In the current legislative session, another such bill has emerged.  It may appear less bold than the one condemned by the Supreme Court, but as a veteran of several initiative campaigns, I can attest that the proposed new requirements would nevertheless be crippling to initiative efforts.

​First, House Bill 652 would shorten the period for gathering signatures on initiative petitions by moving the deadline from the end of April in an election year to the end of March.  This change would eliminate a crucial month of cooperative weather within which signatures may be sought.  Nearly all signature acquisitions must be made outdoors by the petition carriers either knocking on doors or approaching people as they enter or leave buildings or events.  Cold, snow, and rain make such signature gatherings in winter very challenging.  Consequently, April is a crucial month for proponents to complete the process. By eliminating the opportunity for an “April push,” HB 652 would significantly diminish the chance of a petition drive’s success. 

​Next, HB 652 requires that petition signatures obtained in one month be submitted to county clerks by the second Tuesday of the following month.  It means that a volunteer who acquired signatures on the last day of a month could have as little as eight days to get the petition notarized and delivered to the county clerk. If the volunteer’s illness or other circumstance prevented compliance, any signatures on that petition would be disqualified without notice to those who signed.  This petty requirement unjustifiably adds burden and complexity for those obtaining signatures and would be especially challenging for volunteers in remote rural areas that are many miles from the county seat.  

​Those are not the bill’s worst provisions, however.  Even more troublesome is the addition of a 60-day “public review” period after the petitions have been submitted to the Secretary of State.  During this period, anyone could examine the names on the petitions, and persons who signed would be allowed to withdraw their signatures by written or emailed notification to the county clerk or Secretary of State.  Under existing law, people already have the right to withdraw their signatures, and there is no apparent need for public review of signatures that have already been validated by county clerks. It is apparent, however, that public disclosure of signed petitions would enable opponents of an initiative to “dox”, harass, and threaten signers or pressure people into withdrawing their signatures.  Given the way election workers across the country have been harassed and terrorized, this is not just an imaginary risk.  Idahoans should be entitled to sign a petition without a public broadcast of their action or the risk of personal endangerment.

​Lastly, because the bill contains no provision requiring verification that the person requesting removal of a signature is actually the person who signed, the public review provision would also enable fraudulent removal of signatures.  Public access would permit opponents to determine who signed the petition and then falsely notify the clerk or Secretary of State to remove their signatures, all without the real signers’ knowledge or consent.  The bill includes no safeguards to prevent such fraud.

​If these new burdens on Idahoans’ initiative rights are enacted, it seems likely that another constitutional challenge will be brought.  It will be yet another costly legal fight for which taxpayers will have to pay in order to secure their constitutional rights against legislative overreach.

​ Preserve your voice—tell your legislators that HB 652 is unacceptable.

Written by Take Back Idaho