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Reform preserves democracy

Published on February 1, 2013 3:01AM

Last changed on March 1, 2013 9:10AM


Idaho legislators have come up with a way to guarantee that initiatives have statewide support before they appear on the ballot. The concept is simple, fair and assures all citizens -- not just those in Boise, the most populous area -- have a say in the initiative process.

By requiring that the signatures on initiatives be from 6 percent of the voters in at least 22 of the 35 legislative districts, the proposal would guarantee the initiative process cannot be hijacked by urban interests.

Currently, the signatures of 6 percent of Idaho's voters -- 53,750 -- are required to qualify an initiative for the ballot. That means all, or nearly all, of the signatures could come from Boise and surrounding communities. Not a single signature is needed from Pocatello, Burley -- or any other area, for that matter.

Boise is in Ada County, which has 251,467 registered voters -- 28 percent of Idaho's voters. That's more than the combined total of the next three most populous counties: Canyon, Kootenai and Bonneville.

That concentration of political power can overwhelm the rest of the state, and many Idaho lawmakers believe it excludes less populated rural areas. When a handful of signature gatherers can stand on a few Boise thoroughfares and get all of the signatures needed for a ballot initiative, why should they care what voters think in the rest of the state?

The proposal before the Legislature would require initiative supporters to get signatures from a more representative portion of Idaho, not just Boise. Each legislative district has roughly the same population, meaning signatures from a much broader cross section of the population would be needed to get an initiative on the ballot.

That is only fair, and it's nearly impossible to argue that Idaho residents, because they don't live in Boise, don't count when it comes to ballot initiatives.

Other Western states -- particularly Oregon, Washington and California -- would do well to emulate the proposal before the Idaho Legislature. Those states have long been held hostage by the most populous areas.

In Washington, Seattle and the Puget Sound area dominate. In Oregon, Portland dictates statewide politics. And in California, Los Angeles and San Francisco have long been dominant.

In large part, that's why Washington state has a kooky new law legalizing marijuana, Oregon's property tax system is a basket case and California has taken up the cause of chicken comfort.

When it comes to an initiative, every citizen, not just those living in big cities, should have a say.

That's what Idaho's proposal would guarantee.


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