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Opinion Column
For the week of December 13 through 19, 2000

Idaho has its own 
voter’s lawsuit

Commentary by PAT MURPHY

If the Florida debacle of uncounted and disqualified votes has left Americans disillusioned about the integrity of their most cherished right on Election Day, Idaho voters are in for a real letdown when they hear how and why their rights have been drastically whittled down by the Republican-controlled state Legislature.

A lawsuit has been filed in U.S. District Court in Boise challenging a 1997 amendment to the state law that allows voters to by-pass the state Legislature and take the initiative to pass, repeal or amend laws by gathering signatures and placing referenda on the election ballot.

The original law only required voters to gather signatures equivalent to 10 percent of the votes in the previous gubernatorial election to place an initiative referendum on the state ballot. So, petitioners could collect signatures quickly and easily by concentrating efforts in the populous Boise and Twin Falls areas.

But in 1997, then-Rep. Ron Crane, who went on to become Idaho’s current state treasurer, ended his 16 years in the state House by slipping through an amendment that raised requirements. Now, if voters want to place an issue on the ballot, they must obtain signatures equivalent to 6 percent of the registered voters in 22 of the state’s 44 counties. The obvious new burden is that Crane’s amendment forces petitioners to obtain signatures in half of the state’s counties, an almost impossible task for grassroots initiatives.

Guess what argument Crane used when trimming the power of voters?

He claimed that voters might "abuse" their democratic rights, an unvarnished admission that Crane and other state Republicans don’t trust voters, only other politicians.

Such arrogance, but not surprising.

The right to legislate by voter initiative is pure democracy -- a way for voters to rise up against abusive and indifferent politicians who refuse to act in behalf of voters interests.

This right was born of American colonists, who rose up against the overbearing, authoritarian power of King George and launched the American Revolution.

Idaho’s Republicans have a stranglehold on state government. They’re inclined to march to the drumbeat of well-heeled business lobbyists when conducting the people’s business.

In filing the lawsuit in federal court, Kootenai County Commissioner Ron Rankin, who four times failed through initiatives to put a cap on state property taxes, alleges that special interests and corporate business interests don’t want voters tampering with state laws.

If Republicans can effectively rob voters of their right to initiate grassroots changes in state law, then Idaho has done more to set back democracy than any undercounted Florida paper ballots in Florida.


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