Reclaim Idaho launches legal challenge against new initiative law

Governor Brad Little signed Senate Bill 1110 into law in April
Governor Brad Little signed Senate Bill 1110 into law in April
Updated: May. 10, 2021 at 12:24 AM MDT
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BOISE, Idaho (KMVT/KSVT) —Reclaim Idaho has filed a lawsuit in the Idaho Supreme Court to strike down the Gem State’s recently enacted initiative law the group sees as unconstitutional.

After passing through both chambers of the state legislature, Governor Brad Little signed Senate Bill 1110 into law in April. The purpose of the legislation is to increase voter involvement and inclusivity in the voter initiative/referendum process, by ensuring signatures of 6% of registered voters are gathered from each of the 35 legislative districts, instead of the prior requirement of 18.

When the bill passed through the House 51-18 in April, Rep. Jim Addis (R) of District 4, said the legislation, “ensures that our urban and rural citizens have a voice in the creation of state law.”

Rep. Sage Dixon (R) of District 1 — who also voted in favor of the bill — said the legislation gets the voice of all 35 districts of Idaho in “another law-making process,” and every district in Idaho should be represented in that process.

“But effectively you can go to our four counties in Idaho and get all the signatures you need; those happen to be the most populous counties as well, and can easily outvote the rest of that state,” Dixon said.

Luke Mayville, the co-founder of Reclaim Idaho, said the new law makes the voter ballot initiative process almost impossible unless someone or a group has a lot of money. He said it was hard for his group to get Medicaid Expansion on the ballot under the old rules in 2017.

“Thousands of volunteers were involved, and we were still barely able to put it on the ballot under the old rules,” said Mayville. “If you are a grassroots organization or even an experienced organization without a lot of money what you have to do is motivate volunteers, and you have to travel all over the state. . . multiple times.”

Rep. Ilana Rube (D) of District 18 voted against the bill in April. She said if the House made a rule requiring that representatives from all 35 districts had to support a bill in order for it to pass, nobody would, “say wow what a great way to protect rural voters.”

“You would say, ‘wow you are trying to grind the legislative process to a halt,’” Rubel said.

She also said with $8 million a group can buy their way onto the ballot, but she doesn’t think that is how legislators want to confine ballot initiatives.

“I would like to hear from people who have actually collected ballots. I would like to hear from somebody here that has actually collected signatures for a ballot initiative, stand up and say, ‘No problemo. We can get something on the ballot under these rules,’ because you can’t. You can’t. You can’t,” Rubel said.

Rep. Karey Hanks (R) of District 35 countered by stating the ballot initiative process should be difficult.

“I represent four rural counties and they have expressed to me that they want to have more say in these ballot initiatives,” Hanks said.

Mayville argues the ballot initiative process doesn’t favor urban voters over rural ones because all voters get a chance for their voices to be heard when the initiative hits the ballot. He also said he can’t help but feel the new law is payback for his group getting Medicaid Expansion on the ballot in 2017. He said it was something Idaho lawmakers were not in favor of.

Mayville said of the 24 states with ballot measures, no other state requires a large number of signatures from all state-legislative districts. Reclaim Idaho, and the Committee to Protect and Preserve the Idaho Constitution has filed a lawsuit. Mayville said he feels very optimistic about their chances, and so far more than 2,00 Idahoans have donated money toward the lawsuit.

“The vast majority, whether they are conservative or progressive, Democrat or Republican, they are opposed to this legislation,” said Mayville. “Because it is a direct assault on Article III of the constitution.”

In case the Idaho Supreme Court does not rule in their favor, he said his group is preparing a signature drive to qualify the Initiative Rights Act for the 2022 ballot. The measure would restore the signature requirements that existed in 2012: 6% of registered voters statewide.

“We want to give the people of Idaho a chance to weigh in on themselves in the 2022 election and decide ‘no we want the old signature-gathering rules. We actually want the right to put things on the ballot’,” Mayville said.

The co-founder said to get the Initiative Rights Act on the 2022 ballot under the new rules will take an extraordinary effort and a lot of money because it just couldn’t be done with volunteers.”

“I don’t know just a rough prediction would be it would cost $1 million or $2 million and a lot of volunteer effort,” Mayville said.

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