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Stop the assault on citizen initiative rights

by LUKE MAYVILLE Contributing Writer
| February 16, 2021 1:00 AM

Stop the assault on citizen initiative rights

Last week, Idaho Sen. Steve Vick proposed a bill that would make it nearly impossible for Idaho citizens to qualify an initiative for the ballot.

Idaho currently has some of the most restrictive rules in the country when it comes to ballot initiatives. In addition to collecting signatures from 6% of all registered voters in the state, an initiative campaign must also collect signatures from 6% in each of 18 legislative districts.

It's extremely difficult to qualify an initiative in Idaho. In the past 18 years, only a single initiative — the initiative to expand Medicaid — made the ballot and passed.

But Senator Vick and other politicians are insisting that the citizen initiative process isn’t hard enough and they’re attempting to make the process much, much harder.

Senator Vick’s bill requires signatures from 6% of registered voters in all 35 of Idaho's legislative districts, up from the 18 districts that are currently required. No other state in the country imposes signature requirements on all legislative districts. If this bill becomes law, Idaho will have the most restrictive initiative laws in the United States.

Let's be clear: This bill is an attempt to make future grassroots initiatives virtually impossible.

In the coming days, we will hear Senator Vick and other politicians falsely claim that this bill would empower rural voters. They’ll claim that rural communities don't have a voice in our initiative process. 

But Idaho’s Medicaid Expansion initiative received signatures from all 44 counties. In fact, the entire campaign began in rural Bonner County and was bolstered by passionate teams of volunteers in rural communities across the state. The initiative received a majority of the vote in 35 of Idaho’s 44 counties, including dozens of rural counties.

The truth is that Senator Vick's bill has nothing to do with rural voters. It's an attempt to seize power from ordinary citizens and guarantee that no grassroots citizen initiative ever happens again.

It’s time to remind our legislators that the ballot initiative is the constitutional right of every Idaho citizen. It’s a right that was enshrined in our state constitution over a century ago to give ordinary citizens a voice in their government.

Back in 2019 — the last time Idaho politicians attempted to rig the initiative process — 10 Republican senators joined 7 Democrats in bipartisan opposition to the bill. Standing in opposition to the bill, Republican Senator Jim Guthrie spoke eloquently on the Senate floor, saying:

“The three branches of government we always talk about are executive, legislative and judicial. Lost in the discussion is the most important branch. That’s our citizens. Keep in mind senators, without them there is no us.”

Senator Vick's bill is a power grab by politicians who think that they—and only they—have a right to make laws. Let’s hope that other legislators have enough respect for Idaho citizens to reject this proposal. 


Luke Mayville is co-founder of Reclaim Idaho, the organization that spearheaded the successful campaign to expand Medicaid in Idaho.