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Bill Targeting 'Government Interference' in Elections Surfaces at Idaho Legislature

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ADA COUNTY ELECTIONS
  • Ada County Elections
Just as Ada County voters were set to begin early voting Monday morning, deciding the fate of bonds and/or supplemental levies in the Boise, Kuna and West Ada school districts, the Idaho Legislature took up a measure that, if approved, would impose strict rules on Idaho elections and bond elections in particular.

"The crux of this bill says that no public funds, resources or property may be used by a governmental entity in supporting a proposed bond or levy," said Rep. Jason Monks (R-Nampa). "In order to have a free and fair election, we simply can't have government trying to influence those votes."

Monks pointed to a pile of glossy mailers, flyers and newsletters from several Idaho communities that he said improperly tried to influence voters' opinions.

"Look at this: Here's a packet that was given to school children, telling them to bring it home to parents, talking about a school funding issue. It talks about when the election is and what's on the ballot. That's fine. But it also talks about what would happen if the bond fails and why the school district insists that it needs the bond. It even includes an application for an absentee ballot. It just doesn't seem appropriate."

A number of other citizens testified they weren't particularly happy when they received multiple flyers or mailers, promoting a bond in their towns or school districts.

"Look at the College of Western Idaho," said Hubert Osborne, testifying before the Idaho House State Affairs Committee. "They spent $370,000 from a strategic reserve fund to promote their bond election last year."

Fred Birnbaum, vice president of the Idaho Freedom Foundation, also piled on CWI, calling the community college's use of public funds to run what he called "a marketing campaign arriving in mailboxes just before last November's election" unfair.

"And let's look at the recent bond and levy elections in Boise and Kuna," said Birnbaum. "Both of those school districts have engaged in electioneering."

 Ada County Clerk Chris Rich, the county's top elections official, questioned the proposed measure.

"It's unclear if this would even allow us to conduct a media campaign," said Rich. "Take last November's election, for example. We knew it would be a huge turnout so we had to do everything possible to inform people about early voting and absentee voting. Could we do that under this bill? It's questionable."

The State Affairs Committee ran out of time Monday morning, requiring public testimony and debate on the measure to spill over until Tuesday. One panel member asked that Idaho Secretary of State Lawerence Denney be available to the committee during Tuesday's hearing.

"I think he'll be here," said Committee Chairman Rep. Tom Loertscher (R-Iona). "I'm sure he would love to answer some of our questions."

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