BOISE – The U.S. Supreme Court should reject Idaho Gov. Brad Little’s request to put on hold an online signature-gathering effort during the coronavirus pandemic, backers of an education funding initiative say.
Reclaim Idaho in documents filed Tuesday at the request of Justice Elena Kagan said online signature-gathering won’t harm the state as Little contends, and that the state is likely to lose the case anyway.
The Republican governor filed an appeal last week after the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected his request to stay an order allowing online signatures until the case is decided on its merits. State officials say Idaho has never allowed electronic signatures for ballot initiatives, and contend it undermines the state’s election process.
The funding initiative backers are trying to get on the November ballot would raise $170 million for K-12 education by raising Idaho’s corporate tax rate and increasing taxes on individuals making $250,000 or more annually.
Reclaim Idaho, a group that backs initiatives, in the lawsuit filed last month said Little’s statewide stay-home order in late March didn’t include exceptions for ballot initiative signature-gathering.
The group in the lawsuit against Little and Secretary of State Lawerence Denney, also a Republican, said they violated the First Amendment-protected process of signature gathering, a form of political speech.
U.S. District Court Judge B. Lynn Winmill late last month agreed with Reclaim Idaho and ordered the state to choose between accepting online signatures or simply putting the education funding initiative on the November ballot. When Idaho didn’t respond, Winmill ordered the state to collect online signatures or allow Reclaim Idaho to do so.
A 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel last week on a 2-1 vote rejected Little’s request to stay that order. Little then asked the U.S. Supreme Court to stay the order, arguing the appeals court erred.
Reclaim Idaho said in the documents filed Tuesday that the district court and appeals court got it right.
“This case involves a narrow, well-supported, and fact-bound decision by a district court applying clearly established First Amendment law,” attorneys for Reclaim Idaho said in the document to Kagan. “It is about a minor and temporary modification to a small aspect of Idaho’s initiative process in the middle of a pandemic.”
The next step in the process is for the state to reply to Reclaim Idaho’s filing. It’s not clear when the court would make a ruling.
As it stands, Reclaim Idaho has until Aug. 26 to collect about 57,000 signatures.
The group had already collected 33,000 signatures before stopping the effort when the coronavirus pandemic arrived in Idaho and it became unsafe to send signature-gatherers into communities.
Luke Mayville of Reclaim Idaho said Wednesday that the group through Tuesday had collected about 7,000 online signatures and was getting closer to collecting a minimum number of signatures in 18 of Idaho’s 35 legislative districts as required to get an initiative on the ballot.
“There’s still a lot of work to do,” he said, noting the group didn’t know it would be mounting an online signature campaign until the appeals court ruling earlier this month. “We expect to have to sprint in the final two or three weeks.”
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