State questions security of Reclaim Idaho online signature gathering effort

Allowing Reclaim Idaho to pursue an online signature gathering drive for its nearly $200 million K-12 funding initiative exposes the state to election fraud, attorneys for the state argued Friday.

The online process, ordered by U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill in late June, overrides state law that requires groups to gather signatures for initiatives face to face.

“(Winmill) fundamentally altered Idaho’s initiative laws, and eviscerated the anti-fraud measures the state’s elected representatives determined are a vital part of that process,” Attorney General Lawrence Wasden’s office said in a brief filed late Friday with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

It will be up to the Ninth Circuit to decide whether Reclaim Idaho can continue gathering online signatures in a final attempt to get its K-12 initiative on November’s ballot. Reclaim Idaho suspended face-to-face signature gathering on March 18 — a few days after the state reported its first cases of coronavirus. The group then filed a lawsuit arguing that Gov. Brad Little and Secretary of State Lawerence Denney had violated Reclaim Idaho’s First Amendment rights by failing to accommodate a campaign during the outbreak.

Winmill sided with Reclaim Idaho on the constitutional issue, prompting the state’s appeal to the Ninth Circuit.

The state reiterated its basic arguments in the latest filing — saying Reclaim Idaho was not assured a spot on the 2020 ballot, saying the group began gathering signatures only in the final few months of an 18-month election cycle, and saying the group suspended its campaign well before suing the state on June 6.

Election security was another theme in the state’s brief. The state said the online signature gathering process “invited opportunities for fraud and abuse.” DocuSign, the vendor Reclaim Idaho is using to collect signatures, is also collecting GPS information and partial Social Security numbers from signees — data that could be subject to public records requests. And the state says it has not been given a chance to review the online process to address possible cybersecurity concerns.

In a previous court filing, Reclaim Idaho says DocuSign — “a reliable national firm that verifies 750,000 signatures a day” — will use a state-of-the-art process to collect signatures from Idahoans.

The Ninth Circuit will hear oral arguments on Aug. 10.

Friday’s filing capped another hectic week in the fast-moving Reclaim Idaho dispute.

Buoyed by two federal court rulings — including a July 9 order from the Ninth Circuit — Reclaim Idaho launched online signature gathering early last week. The group says it has collected more than 5,000 signatures as of Friday.

“The response to the Invest in Idaho education initiative has been overwhelming, but it’s not surprising,” Reclaim Idaho spokesman Jeremy Gugino said. “Idaho’s parents are concerned about their children more than ever given the governor’s proposal to slash public school funding by $100 million in the middle of a pandemic.”

But late Tuesday afternoon, the state had filed a separate appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, asking the high court to put the July 9 Circuit Court order on hold, suspending the signature gathering process. The Supreme Court has asked Reclaim Idaho to file a response by Tuesday. Beyond that, the court’s timetable is unclear.

Unless the Supreme Court puts the signature gathering on hold, Reclaim Idaho will have until Aug. 26 to collect an additional 30,000 signatures. That’s just one hurdle to qualify for a spot on the November ballot; Reclaim Idaho also must collect signatures from 6 percent of registered voters in 18 of Idaho’s 35 legislative districts.

If the initiative lands on the ballot, it would need a simple majority to pass.

Dubbed the “Invest in Idaho” initiative, Reclaim Idaho’s proposal would increase corporate taxes and income taxes for Idahoans making more than $250,000 annually. The tax increases would generate $170 million to $200 million annually. This money would go into a special fund for K-12 initiatives — such as teacher pay raises, career-technical programs or full-day kindergarten.

 

About 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 KIVI 6 On Your Side; "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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