Eye On Boise

Idaho loses lawsuit over presidential ballot rules, pays attorney fees

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter, center, presides over a meeting of Idaho's Constitutional Defense Council on Tuesday; at left are Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden and Secretary of State Ben Ysursa, at right, state Controller Donna Jones and House Speaker Lawerence Denney. The council voted to pay more than $54,000 in attorney fees to an Arizona man who successfully challenged Idaho's presidential election laws, which have since been changed. (Betsy Russell)
Idaho Gov. Butch Otter, center, presides over a meeting of Idaho's Constitutional Defense Council on Tuesday; at left are Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden and Secretary of State Ben Ysursa, at right, state Controller Donna Jones and House Speaker Lawerence Denney. The council voted to pay more than $54,000 in attorney fees to an Arizona man who successfully challenged Idaho's presidential election laws, which have since been changed. (Betsy Russell)

Idaho's Constitutional Defense Council, which includes the governor, attorney general, secretary of state, state controller, and the House speaker and Senate president pro-tem, has voted unanimously to pay more than $54,000 in attorney's fees and costs, plus interest, to an Arizona man who successfully challenged Idaho's law requiring signature-gatherers for nominating petitions for presidential candidates seeking to make the Idaho ballot be Idaho residents. “There was corrective legislation passed this session,” Secretary of State Ben Ysursa told the council, to which Gov. Butch Otter retorted, “So it won't happen again.” That drew a laugh, as several council member cautioned that that particular case won't happen again.

The constitutional defense council oversees Idaho's “constitutional defense fund,” which before today's vote had $240,422 left in it; this payment will take it down to around $185,000. “I think it is important that we at some point replenish that fund,” said House Speaker Lawerence Denney. Otter said, “We were going to do that last year, but we didn't do it.” Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, who participated in the meeting by phone, said, “We did lose, and it seems appropriate this would be a good fund to pay the fees out of.” The fund was established by the Legislature for legal defense of state laws on constitutional issues.

Idaho defended its law against the federal lawsuit, saying it comported with federal requirements that a presidential candidate show a “modicum of support” to get on a state's presidential ballot. But a recent  9th Circuit decision in an Arizona case suggested the appellate court won't uphold such restrictions. Idaho's rules were changed in HB 275 this year, which made a series of administrative changes in Idaho's election laws and passed near-unanimously; the bill also reduced the number of required signatures for a third-party candidate for president to make Idaho's ballot to 1,000; they'd previously been set at a percentage of those who voted in the last presidential election, which was many times higher. The lawsuit, Daien v. Ysursa, also successfully raised that issue, saying it improperly burdened independent candidates.




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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Russell covers Idaho news from the state capitol in Boise and writes the Eye on Boise blog.

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