Idaho lawmakers reject proposal to make ballot initiative process more difficult

A proposal asking voters to make the ballot initiative process more difficult will not appear on the 2024 election ballot.

The Idaho House on Thursday rejected Senate Joint Resolution 101, which would have asked voters to amend the state constitution and require 6% of voters from each of Idaho’s 35 legislative districts to sign a petition triggering a ballot initiative. Currently, 6% of voters in 18 legislative districts is the benchmark.

Most House Republicans supported the change, but it fell eight votes short of the required two-thirds majority. Some pointed to confusion in the language of the proposed change.

The sponsor of the resolution, Sen. Doug Okuniewicz, R-Hayden, previously described the amendment as requiring 6% of voters who participated in the most recent election. But the proposed amendment would have required 6% of “legal voters” in each district, which could be interpreted to mean registered voters.

That could mean twice as many signatures would be required, Rep. Britt Raybould, R-Rexburg, told the full House.

“It creates a threshold much higher than, I think, was intended by the bill sponsors,” Raybould said.

Other House members opposed the change regardless of the language uncertainty. They said the initiative process is used sparingly and to hold state officials accountable. Successful initiatives created Idaho Fish and Game and the homeowner’s exemption and expanded Medicaid eligibility when lawmakers declined to do so.

“This is the tool that people have to check on our power,” said Rep. Colin Nash, D-Boise. “This bill doesn’t expressly do away with the referendum process. But what I’m concerned about is constructively repealing the referendum process in our state.”

Rep. Mark Sauter, R-Sandpoint, told the House that he’s received an “overwhelming” number of calls and emails opposing the resolution. During public hearings on the proposal, Idaho residents from across the state slammed it.

“There’s much more pressing issues right now that need to be addressed,” Jean Gerth, of Sagle, told the Senate State Affairs Committee last month. “I view it as a distraction, and I think it’s been presented, possibly, to do that, to distract us from other things.”