top of page

97,000 signatures... but still major question marks

Updated: Jul 3

Supporters of an Idaho ballot measure that would open primaries and adopt ranked choice voting likely delivered enough signatures to the state Tuesday to place the measure on the November general election.

Activists stood on the steps of the state capitol in Boise to announce they were submitting more than 97,000 signatures. Idaho state law requires valid signatures from six percent of voters in half of the state's 35 legislative districts.

In addition to opening the primaries to all voters (instead of just parties choosing their candidates), the measure would implement ranked choice voting (RCV) in the general election. The convoluted and controversial system would require voters to rank candidates in their order of preference. Votes would be counted in rounds, as the candidate with the fewest votes would be eliminated, and those votes would be transferred to the second choice. If voters only chose one candidate, their vote could be tossed out.

Coupling the issues (open primaries and RCV) together in the same measure presents major headaches for supporters and voters. First, while open primaries may be popular, RCV is decidedly not. It is telling that almost all of the signage and language regarding the measure now mentions little of RCV.

Second, there are serious constitutional concerns. The measure likely violates the state’s single subject rule.

Article 3, Section 16 of the Idaho State Constitution makes it clear that “every act shall embrace but one subject and matters properly connected therewith.” Several years ago, lawmakers amended state law to require ballot initiatives only address a single subject.

The reasoning here is simple: to ensure that it is easy to interpret voter intent. If a measure has multiple subjects, it is difficult to know what voters may have been approving or rejecting.

There is currently no standing to review the open primaries/ranked choice voting measure because it has not yet qualified. If it does, the Idaho Supreme Court will likely be asked to review.

A single subject rule is not unusual. Of the states that allow for a citizen-initiated ballot measure, more than half have single-subject rules.

Montana’s Supreme Court recently cited single subject requirements to strike down an initiative that would have capped yearly property tax increases but would have also capped the taxable value.

South Dakota’s Supreme Court did the same, ruling a voter-approved initiative legalizing marijuana was unconstitutional because recreational marijuana, medical marijuana and hemp were three different subjects.

Single subject rules also exist to clarify actions of legislatures. In fact, 43 state constitutions contain single subject requirements for legislation. Mississippi and Arkansas apply the requirement to just spending bills.

One place you won’t find single subject requirements is the United States Constitution and the U.S. Congress. As a result, mega omnibus bills often called “Christmas trees” are commonplace – a frustration for many Americans and an affront to the notion of transparent government.

Supporters of the election ballot initiative say it will give Idahoans “more freedom and better leadership.” Whether that is true is ultimately up to voters to decide.

But with two distinct subjects, it will be more difficult to try to determine and implement their real intent.

As it currently stands, are voters supporting open primaries or ranked choice voting with the ballot measure? They are two very different things. By linking the subjects together, voters are being denied the opportunity to support one or the other - something single subject restrictions are designed to prevent.

It is a near certainty the ballot measure will be challenged in court.

Both Washington's (Steve Hobbs) and Montana's (Christi Jacobsen) Secretary of State have spoken out against ranked choice voting, with Hobbs saying "ranked-choice voting adds a layer of complexity to voting that threatens to disenfranchise people who aren’t experts at the process."

MSPC has produced this video to detail the challenges surrounding ranked choice voting:

bottom of page