Letter to the Editor

Stop the War on Voters!

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

This session has been marked by a never ending stream of GOP-driven bills to erode Idahoansí voting rights. It has to stop. Itís the Legislatureís job to serve voters, not silence them.

Ballot initiatives are a popular, Constitutionally guaranteed right of Idaho citizens to pass a law directly when the Legislature wonít act. We certainly wouldnít want every little thing to be decided by popular vote - thatís why we elect legislators. Idahoans have too much going on in their lives to be expected to handle all our legislation. But every so often, when thereís a clear divide between the will of Idaho and its legislators, ballot initiatives empower voters to cut through the indecision, bureaucracy, and stubbornness that can plague the legislature. They are extremely difficult to do and are used rarely, but to great effect. Itís how we got campaign sunshine laws, teacher pay increases and homeownerís exemptions.

Ever since citizens passed Medicaid expansion by initiative in 2018, GOP politicians have been on the warpath against this right. Their attempt to essentially eradicate ballot initiatives was smacked down by the Supreme Court in 2021, but they just wonít stop. This year, two GOP bills concern me deeply because they would deal serious blows to ballot initiative rights.

HB652 would reduce the signature collection period by a whole month Ė the most essential month. Currently, ballot signature collection ends April 30. April is the most productive time for petition signing because itís warm enough to go door-to-door and hold outd or gatherings. This bill sets the deadline at March 31, wiping out a vital window for signature collection.

Furthermore, it requires that any signature not submitted to the clerk within 30 days be thrown out without the signerís knowledge or consent. No compelling reason was given for this bill Ė itís just another attack making it harder for citizens to exercise initiative rights.

SB1377 also contributes to the death of ballot initiatives by a thousand cuts. It requires that any paid signature gatherers wear nametags and notify every signer of their paid status. Should a signature gatherer fail to notify a single person, the entire sheet - including the properly collected signatures - would be thrown out without the knowledge or consent of the people who signed.

This is clear disenfranchisement, again with no plausible purpose other than to kneecap initiative rights.

There are other bills broadly attacking voting rights. HB 599 criminalizes delivering your neighborís ballot to a county clerk or drop-box. Itís already a crime to steal, destroy or tamper with a ballot, but this makes it a crime to help a disabled or elderly neighbor make sure their completed, sealed ballot is dropped off on time. Iím all for criminalizing bad behavior, but why criminalize helpful conduct that makes it possible for legal citizens to vote?

Finally, thereís HB667, which would ban absentee voting for any citizen that isnít sick, disabled or out-of-state. Thousands of Idahoans vote absentee now - shift-workers, caregivers, students.

Some people just like to have more time to research candidates and issues as they fill out their ballot. There has not been even a whiff of fraud around absentee voting in Idaho and itís been widely and productively used to allow more legal citizens to vote.

Itís a top priority for me to protect your ballot initiative and voting rights, but I could use your help. Please contact GOP members of the Legislature and encourage them to reject these dangerous bills before they become law. Act now to ensure your voice is heard at the ballot box in the future.