July 20, 2011 in Idaho

Idaho settles suit over ballot

Lawmakers fixed problems with presidential primary
By The Spokesman-Review
 

BOISE – Idaho has changed its election laws after a Texas prison inmate made Idaho’s presidential ballot in 2008, and a Ralph Nader supporter from Arizona won a discrimination lawsuit over the nominating process.

The fixes were rolled into an innocuous election administration bill that passed near-unanimously this year, but Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa says it could all change again soon. Now that both parties are going to hold caucuses for their presidential picks, Idaho likely will do away with its presidential primary altogether.

“There’s no reason to have it,” Ysursa said Tuesday.

He joined with other members of Idaho’s Constitutional Defense Council in a unanimous vote to pay more than $54,000 for attorney fees to an Arizona man who successfully challenged Idaho’s presidential election laws, including a requirement that anyone gathering signatures on a nominating petition be an Idaho resident. A federal court ruled that provision unconstitutional.

“There was corrective legislation passed this session,” Ysursa said.

That legislation, HB 275, made a series of administrative changes to Idaho’s election laws, many related to its complex new election-date consolidation law.

Little-noticed among its provisions was one that requires presidential candidates to collect signatures in the state to make the ballot, in addition to paying a $1,000 fee. That used to be required in Idaho, but a previous law change let candidates either pay the fee or collect the signatures – which enabled Keith Russell Judd, who was serving time at the Beaumont Federal Correctional Institution in 2008, to qualify for Idaho’s presidential primary ballot simply by sending in a notarized form and paying the fee.

Judd had tried to get on the ballot for president in numerous states, and he qualified as a write-in candidate in several, but only in Idaho did his name make the ballot for the Democratic primary, right along with Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

Judd, who was convicted in 1999 of making threats on the University of New Mexico campus, received 734 votes, or 1.7 percent; Obama won handily, with 56 percent.

“We weren’t real happy he was on our ballot,” Ysursa said. “There were some changes made.”

Idaho’s Democratic primary for president actually doesn’t count, because the state’s Democrats long have held caucuses to select their presidential delegates; that made the election in which Judd competed a meaningless contest.

Last weekend, the Idaho Republican Party’s central committee, at its meeting in Moscow, voted to go the same route: hold caucuses in every county rather than use primary election results to determine its delegates to the national party’s presidential nominating convention.

Ysursa said that means Idaho really should just do away with its presidential primary vote. Washington already has suspended the 2012 presidential primary for budget reasons.

“Obviously we’ll still have a primary the third Tuesday in May,” Ysursa said. But if lawmakers agree in their session that starts in January, “The presidential primary won’t be on it.”

Instead, Idaho’s primary election will be for just state and local offices.

When Ralph Nader supporter Donald Daien sued Idaho in 2009 over its election laws, he charged that both the state’s requirement that those gathering signatures on nominating petitions be Idaho residents and its higher signature requirement for independent candidates were unconstitutional. He won on both counts.

Daien sought $95,725 in attorney fees and court costs, but Ysursa protested the amount was excessive, and the court reduced it to $54,350. Idaho’s Constitutional Defense Council voted unanimously Tuesday to pay that amount plus interest.

The council, chaired by Gov. Butch Otter, oversees Idaho’s “constitutional defense fund,” which was established by the Legislature for legal defense of state laws on constitutional issues. Before Tuesday’s vote, the fund 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.

Before this year’s law changes, the number of required signatures to qualify an independent candidate for president or vice president for Idaho’s ballot was set at 1 percent of those who voted in the last presidential election; now it’s set at 1,000, which is many times lower.

Ysursa noted that despite Idaho’s previous election law provisions, Nader made the state’s presidential ballot as an independent in 2008.


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