By Lyndsie Kiebert
Reader Staff Writer
The question of whether the proposed Scotchman Peaks Wilderness will come to be will now be an issue Bonner County citizens can vote for or against on their primary ballot in May.
The Bonner County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to place an advisory vote on the May ballot. Because it is only “advisory,” the outcome would not determine anything palpable, but instead advise the commissioners which way the county truly leans on the issue.
“I was told, and several of us have been told, there is widespread support for this in the county, only to find out that there isn’t necessarily widespread support for this in the county,” said Commissioner Dan McDonald. “It’s important, if we really want to know whether or not there’s widespread support for this in the county, to see who’s willing to come out and vote for or against it.”
County commissioners are able to place any question before citizens on a ballot, according to Idaho code.
Commissioner Jeff Connolly said he worried this advisory vote option would start to be abused whenever an issue like this arose in the county.
“I don’t oppose putting it on the ballot, I just question whether this is the right move to make for Bonner County,” he said.
This is the first time Bonner County commissioners have placed an item on a ballot for advisory vote purposes, McDonald said.
“This is a tool we can use,” Commissioner Glen Bailey said of the advisory vote. “I don’t see it becoming a common practice.”
McDonald said he is personally opposed to the proposed designation, which would make nearly 14,000 acres in East Bonner County wilderness. Bailey and Connolly have voiced support for the proposal.
Though it is ultimately a federal decision whether the land becomes wilderness, the commissioners agreed that depending on how the county votes, they will either support or oppose the proposal — despite their personal views.
Executive Director of Friends of Scotchman Peaks Phil Hough attended the meeting. He asked the commissioners what accommodations would be made for unaffiliated voters. Elections official Charlie Wurm said the question would make it onto all ballots.
When questioned whether a primary voter turnout would give an accurate idea of county support or opposition to the proposed wilderness area, McDonald said the vote would at least give the commissioners an idea of which way the county leans.
Wurm said the last regular primary, held in May 2016, had a 32.56 percent turnout. He said with the Scotchman Peaks question on the May 2018 ballot, he expects the voter turnout to be in the upper 30s. If the Lake Pend Oreille School District adds a levy question to the ballot, that turnout could exceed 40 percent, he added.