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Ask Idaho lawmakers to kill bill that would make voter initiatives impossible

March 26, 2019

I hope Idahoans are paying close attention to Senate Bill 1159. If passed, this bill will make it impossible for grassroots initiatives to get on the ballot. I know how completely unnecessary this bill is from my own experience because, along with many other statewide volunteers, I worked hard to get an initiative on the ballot for 2012. In this case, it was an initiative to make animal cruelty a felony for a first offense. We fell just short of the number of signatures required.

This year I happily signed a petition to get Medicaid expansion on the ballot. Others spent huge amounts of their time getting this on the ballot so that their fellow Idahoans could receive needed healthcare. Since it was voted in last fall, there have been movements by some of our legislators to change the initiative process itself (Sen. Scott Grow, of Eagle, wrote S 1159).

As a person who spent a lot of time collecting signatures in 2012, I can tell you the present system is already extremely difficult. If you are going door to door, a lot of people aren’t home or you spend a lot of time explaining what the petition is for before they sign. Everyone who signs a petition needs to be registered to vote. Many people don’t realize they aren’t registered because they have not voted in the last four years, or they have moved or changed their name.

For every ‘good’ signature you need to get two. Besides the people collecting the signatures, the people at the courthouse have to verify each signature and do a lot of tracking. This process already puts a burden on them and the new proposal would vastly increase their workload.

Also, do you know what legislative district you are in? You may want to find out, because if S 1159 becomes law, your signature may not count on any petition you sign. Presently each petition is for a specific county only.

With the proposed changes you will have to sign the correct county and legislative district. For example, if you live in Bannock County, you will need to know whether to sign a petition for District 28 or District 29. Confusing? This is just one of many proposed changes to the present law. And the proponents of this bill want to increase the number of signatures from 6 percent of Idaho voters to 10 percent!

The writers of this bill say that our present initiative process is unfair to rural voters (this is their only rationale for this bill), because it is much easier to get signatures from urban areas. There is some truth to that, (just as rural voters have to drive further to get to the booths). But the latest initiative to get on the ballot was representative of voters across the state.

Most importantly the logic of the proponents of this bill fails completely, when you consider how one already has to drive for miles in rural areas to get just a few voter signatures, and they want to cut the amount of time allowed for the entire process from 18 months down to 6 months.

Yes — they want to vastly increase the number of signatures, slow the process while many figure out which district they are in, and cut the amount of time by two thirds!

On March 15, I was able to go to Boise and listen to the testimony of my fellow citizens from all over Idaho. The overwhelming majority of people who testified (58 out of 60) opposed the bill. Several found this unconstitutional because the Idaho Constitution guarantees the right for citizens to have an initiative and a grassroots initiative takes far longer than 6 months.

I really hope the people reading this, will talk to friends and relatives who are familiar with this process. Please do a lot of research and make your voice heard because, there is absolutely no rational reason to pass this.

If you want to go online and listen to the testimony for the 15th, you can Google the words: Idaho State Legislature Media Archive and select the year, category (Senate Standing Committees) and Committee, (State Affairs). These videos take awhile to load and to listen to, but it is worth it to hear the actual testimony.

Also, I hope people will contact their own legislators, in the House, and ask them to vote ‘NO’ on S 1159. This bill has already passed the Idaho Senate by one vote and is headed to the House. Should it pass the House, the governor will have the choice to veto it.

The governor’s number is 208-334-2200. The state Legislature page is full of information where you can find out who your legislators are and their contact information. And for those not online, the phone number for the information center at the Legislature is 208-332-1000. They can give you information and make sure your statements are sent to the appropriate person.

Susan Severson Meek grew up in Pocatello where she attended Pocatello High School and Idaho State University. She completed a bachelor’s degree at ISU in computer information systems in 1990 while working at Kraft. She was employed at various jobs at the Idaho National Laboratory, including warehousing and human resources. Upon retirement in 2010, her goals were to become a more informed and active citizen and animal advocate.