Idaho House Passes Most Restrictive Initiative Requirements in the Nation

By a vote of 58–18 the Idaho House today passed SB 1110. The bill increases Idaho’s signature gathering requirements for citizen initiatives.

Currently, initiatives like the Idaho Medical Marijuana Act must meet two benchmarks: they must collect a 6% threshold in 18 of 35 legislative districts and they must collect a 6% threshold from the state as a whole.

SB 1110 changes that the law by canceling the statewide requirement of 6% and increasing the 6% requirement of districts to include all 35.

Takes Initiatives From Difficult to Almost Impossible

The practical effect of SB 1110 is to take a process that is already one of the most difficult in the nation and make it nigh impossible. No other state in the country requires assent from all of its statewide districts to approve a statutory initiative for the ballot (Colorado does require it for a constitutional amendment, which Idahoans cannot propose).

Collecting signatures from a small area urban district like #16 that spans only 9 square miles is far easier and cheaper than collecting from a rural wilderness district like #8 that spans over 15,000 square miles. SB 1110 virtually guarantees that only a well-funded professional campaign will be able to meet the thresholds.

Might Be Unconstitutional

It may also be unconstitutional. Idaho’s previous geographic requirement law mandated collecting signatures from 22 of its 44 counties. That was declared unconstitutional because counties are of differing populations, making each signature differ in value based on the county it comes from, violating the principle of “one person, one vote” that requires our votes be of equal value.

The legislature in 2013 thought it cleverly avoided the 14th Amendment issues by mandating the 18 of 35 districts rule. Districts, you see, are required to be within a small margin of equal population across the state. Theoretically, each signature gathered within the 6% share of voters in each district should be of constitutionally equal value.

But in actuality, that’s not the case. The 6% threshold isn’t based on the population of the districts but rather their population of registered voters. With a requirement of just 18 districts, one can ignore the outliers and conclude that signatures are of equal weight. But requiring all the districts highlights how #14 requires 3,009 signatures to reach 6% while #27 needs just 1,309—making a signature from #27 over twice as valuable to a campaign as one from #14.

Creates Single-District Veto Loophole

Another odious aspect of SB 1110 is that it creates a backdoor method by which opponents of a popular measure can effectively veto it by lobbying just one district. Opponents need simply tally the signatures gathered in all 35 districts to identify a district or two where the margin of support is the leanest, then target that district with a “remove your signature” campaign to drop the district to below the 6% threshold. With one district below 6%, the initiative is squashed, even if the other 34 districts are far above 6%.

This isn’t just conjecture—it is exactly what happened to the “Count My Vote” initiative in Utah in 2018.

SB 1110 has already passed the Idaho Senate, so it now heads to Gov. Brad Little’s desk. However, there is a good chance he will veto the bill. In 2019, the legislature passed two similar, though less restrictive bills that he vetoed, citing concerns that the “liberal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals” could invalidate the current geographic requirements. When asked about his stand on the more restrictive SB 1110, Gov. Little directed the public to return to his 2019 veto statement.

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