Idaho voters could soon decide whether to overhaul the state’s primary process and adopt ranked choice voting. But even if the measure makes the ballot and is approved by voters, it may not last long.
That’s because, regardless of your opinion of the proposed election ballot measure, the fact remains 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.