As a first-term freshman legislator, my first legislative session has been a humbling experience. I take seriously my responsibilities and have worked hard to represent my District 4 constituents on the entire range of issues we have faced. One of the most emotional and contentious issues we faced was legislation that attempted to reform the initiative process. Much has been communicated, on both sides of this issue, by passionate people. At times this discussion sank to low levels, including name calling, the questioning of people’s motives and blanket stereotyping.
Now that we are two months removed from the session, I’d like to discuss initiative reform/improvement-logically and rationally, not impulsively and emotionally:
The idea that a small number of districts/counties, on either side of an issue, can dictate which initiatives are placed on the ballot is contrary to the ideals of Idaho’s inclusive initiative process. The single most important feature of our initiative process is that it must be inclusive to all of Idaho’s citizens. The rural citizen is just as important as the urban citizen. Neither the rural citizen nor the urban citizen should be shut out of the process of choosing initiatives that will be put on the ballot.
The issues of transparency and integrity in the initiative process are just as important, if not more so. Transparency can only be improved if these initiative efforts continue to comply with the same campaign finance laws that candidates for elected office must comply with. Just as the voter has the right to know their candidate’s campaign finance history, so too should the voter know the campaign finance history for the initiative. The media shares in this responsibility in that they need to inform Idaho’s citizens “where the money comes from.”
To increase integrity, many who work on initiatives state that “paying by the hour” instead of paying on a “per signature” basis will yield “better” results: Per Ballotpedia, California Rep. Evan Low (D28) sponsored legislation in 2018 to ban payment-per-signature. He said, “Some signature gathering firms compensate circulators based on the number of signatures they collect, which is known as ‘Bounty Hunting.’ These bounty hunters have an incentive to do whatever they can to get an individual’s signature-even deceit the person or cheat the system. In order to qualify for the ballot, some initiative proponents qualify their initiatives by illegally misinforming voters and forging names.”
He said banning payment-per-signature would help “maintain the integrity of the initiative process by eliminating the incentive for paid signature gatherers to approach individuals aggressively and spread misinformation.” Oregon PROHIBITS paying signature gatherers based on the number of signatures collected. The ban was challenged but upheld in Prete v. Bradbury in 2006.
Another way to improve the integrity of the initiative process lies in training/registration for paid initiative signature collectors. Paid initiative collectors advocate for a signature to endorse an initiative. At the statehouse, those who are paid to endorse and promote ideas are called lobbyists. Lobbyists must register with the state.
Per Ballotpedia, Oregon also requires that paid signature gatherers are required to register with the state and carry “evidence of registration” with them as they gather. By law, this evidence must include a photo of the circulator and his or her registration number. As part of this registration petition, circulators must also complete a training course. Oregon requires any organization or person that pays persons to gather signatures register with the state. In preliminary discussions with Idaho Secretary of State, Lawerence Denney, this would be relatively easy to accomplish here in Idaho. Please note that unpaid signature collectors would not need to register with the state.
Increasing inclusion, transparency and integrity in the initiative process should be endorsed by all. These improvements do not impact the ability to run an initiative. These improvements simply help protect the integrity of the process and provide more transparency for the voter. Inclusion, Integrity, and transparency in the initiative process and at the ballot box deserves our overwhelming support.
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Jim Addis is a state representative from Coeur d’Alene.