One tiny Idaho county could squash statewide ballot issues if initiative backers are forced to collect signatures from every county in the state.
That’s property tax watchdog Ron Rankin’s assessment of a proposed bill that would require initiative backers to obtain signatures from at least 2 percent of voters in each of Idaho’s 44 counties to get a measure on the ballot.
“Any special interest not in favor of an initiative could put all their efforts in one small county,” Rankin said.
Currently, initiative petitioners such as Rankin and his Idaho Property Owners Association can gather the required 41,000 signatures from anywhere in the state.
But House Bill 433, pre-filed by state Rep. Milton Erhart, R-Boise, on behalf of the Idaho state Farm Bureau, would limit the number of signatures that can be gathered in any one county to 15 percent of the total.
“We just wanted to make statewide initiatives statewide,” said Greg Nelson, a lobbyist for the Farm Bureau. “We wanted to make it so people can’t hire poll-takers to go sit at the malls in Boise or Coeur d’Alene and get all their signatures.He said the current method allows issues important to urban areas such as Boise or Pocatello to dominate the initiative process.
“We just wanted to ensure they (signature-gatherers) at least went to every county,” he said.
But Rankin doesn’t see it that way. While the bill wouldn’t affect his association’s signature drive for a 1 percent cap on property taxes, Rankin said it would give political heavyweights such as the Farm Bureau an easy shot at derailing initiatives they don’t like.
“You could just sit in a coffee shop and stop an initiative dead cold,” he said. “It’s a bad bill; it stinks.”
He suggested Nelson pushed for the move to help the bureau in its fight against a proposed initiative that would ban certain types of bear hunting.
Nelson disagreed. The intent is not to give small counties the ability to jettison initiatives, he said.
Besides, small counties mean fewer signatures are required in them for initiative backers. In Butte County, for example, a voting population of fewer than 500 people means petitioners need only eight signatures.
Nelson said if Rankin’s concerns are echoed by legislators this spring, he sees no harm in eliminating the requirement that signatures come from all counties.
“Even if they had to go to 10 counties, it’d be better than two or three,” he said.