By Lyndsie Kiebert
A federal judge is cracking down on the state of Idaho after Gov. Brad Little and Secretary of State Lawerence Denney chose not to follow a June 23 court order in a lawsuit regarding the ballot initiative process.
It’s the latest move in an increasingly complex lawsuit brought June 6 by grassroots group Reclaim Idaho against Little and Denney, after the state didn’t give the group a way to continue its Invest in Idaho ballot initiative signature drive amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill ruled June 23 in favor of Reclaim Idaho, giving the state two options: approve the initiative as is — with the signatures already submitted — for the November ballot, or provide a chance to collect signatures digitally with an extended deadline.
The state had until the end of the day on June 26 to make its choice, but didn’t — instead requesting a stay.
Winmill denied the request for a stay of proceedings June 30 and went one step further. Rather than give the state two options to choose from — as he had in his previous ruling — he made the choice himself: mandating that Reclaim Idaho be given the chance to circulate its petition online.
“I know everyone says they’re not surprised [by what the state did], but we have to maintain the capacity to be surprised by these decisions,” Reclaim Idaho co-founder Luke Mayville said in a live Facebook video just hours before the judge’s June 30 decision. “The state simply refused to obey a court order — we have to be shocked by that.”
The Invest in Idaho initiative, which would annually allocate about $170 million in taxes on Idaho’s wealthiest to fund K-12 education, had already amassed more than 30,000 signatures when the group ceased activities March 18 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Reclaim Idaho alleged that the state had violated its volunteers’ First Amendment Rights by not offering an alternative to in-person signature gathering, and Winmill agreed.
In a joint statement to Idaho Education News directly following the judge’s initial decision, Little and Denney characterized it as “a surprising exercise of judicial activism” and confirmed that they plan to appeal to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court.
For now, the next clear deadline in the case is July 9, at which time the petitioners and state must “reach an agreement … to set up a process for collecting authentic e-signatures,” according to a Reclaim Idaho newsletter.
Once such arrangements are made, organizers estimate they can have an electronic petition ready by July 13 and anticipate an Aug. 25 deadline to have all signatures turned into the state for verification.
Mayville wrote in a newsletter following the judge’s latest decision that while an electronic signature drive will pose some major challenges, he remains optimistic.
“This won’t be easy,” he wrote, “but with the enthusiasm of thousands of supporters all across the state, we are confident that we can get this done.”
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