BOISE - Sweeping election reform legislation that easily passed the Idaho House was killed by one vote Friday in a Senate committee.
The bill, HB 201, sought to move all of Idaho’s elections to four specific dates, on which they’d be run by county elections offices and use standardized polling places. Backers of the far-reaching legislation included Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa and Kootenai County Clerk Dan English.
“I’ve long been a supporter of consolidated elections because I feel it would serve the taxpayers and voters much better,” English said. “One of the most frequent complaints we get is why all the elections are on so many different dates and places.”
House Tax Chairman Dennis Lake, R-Blackfoot, the bill’s sponsor, told the Senate committee, “I don’t know when I’ve had a bill of this size and this importance that has no opposition to the content of the bill. … The only sticking point is the funding.”
The bill would cost more than $3 million, but wouldn’t take effect until 2011. School districts opposed it because they’d have to pay for elections they chose to hold on the March and August election dates set out in the bill; they wouldn’t bear the cost if their elections fell on the May primary or November general election dates.
Senate President Pro-Tem Bob Geddes, R-Soda Springs, urged the Senate committee to pass the bill, despite the state’s budget crunch. Elections will be held regardless, he said; the bill merely shifts some of the costs from local governments and districts to the state.
“Certainly we’re not going to propose that elections not be held,” Geddes said. “I think it is the cost of democracy. … Certainly allowing people to be better informed, better able to attend and participate in elections is a worthy cost.”
Said Lake, “This is an issue that we’ve been wrestling with for 30 years. I think it’s time - our constituents are becoming impatient. They don’t want any more oddball elections held at obscure locations.”
Under Idaho’s current system, some local governments hold elections on different dates; others hold them on the same dates as primary or general elections, but with different polling places, meaning voters have to make multiple stops on election day.
Among the many changes in the sweeping legislation was moving Idaho’s primary election a week earlier, so that it would no longer fall on the day after the Memorial Day holiday; that’s long been a source of complaints.
English has been a leading advocate of the change; already, in Kootenai County, his office contracts with many other local jurisdictions to run their elections.