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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Idaho changes law after inmate makes presidential ballot

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)
BOISE - Idaho has changed its election laws after a prison inmate in Texas successfully made the Idaho ballot for president in 2008, and a Ralph Nader supporter from Arizona won a discrimination lawsuit over the state’s nominating petition laws. 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 on Tuesday 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 on June 30. “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 - and that let Keith Russell Judd, who was serving time at the Beaumont Federal Correctional Institution in 2008, 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 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 “beauty contest.” Last weekend, the Idaho Republican Party’s central committee, at its meeting in Moscow, voted to go the same route, to 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 done so. “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 on 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 Idaho’s presidential ballot as an independent in 2008.