State Sen. C. Scott Grow’s (R-Eagle) bill week to increase the requirements to get an initiative on Idaho’s ballot drew substantial attention last week. 

The measure would boost the required signature from 6% to 10% of voters in last general election and require that number to be reached in 32 of Idaho’s 35 legislative districts. Currently, the standard is in 18 districts. In addition, the bill would dramatically reduce the time to gather signatures from 18 months to only 6 months.

Grow told the Senate State Affairs Committee (hat tip to Betsy Russell of the Idaho Press):

Right now you’ve got four counties that can meet the current standard, Ada, Canyon, Bonneville and Kootenai. So if a proponent works just in those four counties they can get it on the ballot, ignores all of our rural districts. So the effort here is to allow the rural districts to also be involved in the process and not just have the cities dictate what’s happening.

Numerous opponents believe the measure is an attempt at retaliation for the passage of Proposition 2, the Medicaid expansion initiative, and is geared to make future ballot initiatives nearly impossible. They assert it will create the highest ballot hurdles in the country.

To analyze that point I put together the following chart showing the requirements for statutory initiative ballot access in the states that allow such:

State

Signature Requirements

Alaska

10% of votes cast last general election with at least 7% in 3/4ths of state house districts

Arizona

10% of votes cast in last race for governor

Arkansas

8% of votes cast in last race for governor with at least 4% in 15 of 75 counties

California

5% of votes cast in last race for governor

Colorado

5% of votes cast in last race for secretary of state

Idaho

6% of votes cast in last general election with that number in 18 of 35 legislative districts

Maine

10% of votes cast in last race for governor

Massachusetts

3.5% of votes cast in last race for governor

Michigan

8% of votes cast in last race for governor

Missouri

5% of votes cast in last race for governor in 2/3 of congressional districts

Montana

5% of votes cast in last race for governor in all legislative districts

Nebraska

7% of registered voters with 5% of registered voters in 40% of counties

Nevada

10% of votes cast last general election in all congressional districts

North Dakota

2% of the state population

Ohio

6% of votes cast in last race for governor with 3% in half of counties

Oklahoma

8% of votes cast in last race for governor

Oregon

6% of votes cast in last race for governor

South Dakota

5% of votes cast in last race for governor

Utah

10% of votes cast in last race for president with number met in 26 of 29 legislative district

Washington

8% of votes cast last race for president

Wyoming

15% of votes cast in last general in 2/3 of counties

Of the 21 states that allow initiatives for legislative matters, only 6 require gathering 10% or more of the votes cast in a previous election. Idaho’s current 6% requirement is on the low side.

As to geographical distribution of the signature gathering, only 10 states have such a provision.

Very few states couple a requirement of 10% or more of votes cast with a substantial geographic requirement.  The two most limited are Utah which requires 10% of the votes cast for president be met in 26 of 29 legislative districts. Wyoming in some ways goes further, requiring 15% of the votes cast in the last general election in 2/3 of its counties.  The Grow proposal would make Idaho’s signature requirements in the top three tightest in the United States.

As legislators consider tightening ballot access requirements, they need to keep in mind Idaho Coalition United for Bears v. Cenerassa, a 2003 9th Circuit decision that struck down on federal constitutional grounds a then-existing Idaho requirement that signatures be gathered in half of Idaho’s counties.  Too much restriction could be struck by the courts on similar grounds.

Steve Taggart is an Idaho Falls attorney specializing in bankruptcy (www.MaynesTaggart.com).  He has an extensive background in politics and public policy. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..