Reclaim Idaho: Court delays would leave K-12 initiative ‘dead in the water’

The state’s attempts to delay electronic signature gathering would leave Reclaim Idaho’s K-12 funding initiative “dead in the water,” attorneys for the group said Tuesday.

In a filing before the U.S. Supreme Court, Reclaim Idaho attorneys Deborah Ferguson and Craig Durham urge justices to let the online campaign continue. U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill ordered the state to allow Reclaim Idaho to resume signature gathering last month, and the group began the effort last week.

“The court simply gave Reclaim Idaho an opportunity — far from a sure thing – to meet Idaho’s rigorous standards to qualify its initiative for the fall ballot,” Ferguson and Durham wrote. “If they are successful, voters can vote against the initiative if they so choose.”

Tuesday’s filing, requested by Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan, is the latest development in a complex legal dispute between Reclaim Idaho and state leaders — a struggle that has stretched across three levels of the federal judiciary:

  • On June 23, Winmill said Gov. Brad Little and Secretary of State Lawerence Denney had violated Reclaim Idaho’s First Amendment rights, when it did not accommodate Reclaim Idaho’s request to continue signature gathering during the coronavirus outbreak. The group suspended face-to-face signature gathering in March.
  • On July 9, a divided Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals panel upheld an earlier order from Winmill. That order gave Reclaim Idaho 48 days to gather the necessary 30,000 signatures to qualify for the November ballot, establishing an Aug. 26 deadline.
  • While the Circuit Court considers the First Amendment issue — oral arguments are scheduled for Aug. 10 — the state has asked the Supreme Court to put electronic signature gathering on hold. The state filed its motion on July 14.

In Tuesday’s response, Reclaim Idaho attorneys dismissed two of the state’s arguments — that the federal court orders would lead to voter confusion, and that online signature gathering is ripe for fraud and abuse.

“Technology offers a safe, secure, and reliable alternative to in-person signature gathering through electronic petition circulation and electronic signatures,” Ferguson and Durham wrote. “Courts rely on the authenticity of electronic signatures every day. That includes Idaho courts.”

Reclaim Idaho’s “Invest in Idaho” initiative would increase corporate tax rates and income tax rates for Idahoans making more than $250,000 a year. The new taxes, $170 million to $200 million, would go into a dedicated fund for K-12 programs.

If the initiative qualifies for the November ballot, it would require a simple majority to pass.

Kevin Richert

Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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