Idaho's Ballot Initiative

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"The people reserve to themselves the power to propose laws, and enact the same at the polls independent of the legislature." -Idaho Constitution

The right of Idaho citizens to participate in the lawmaking process was enacted in the first part of the 20th century to combat corruption and double dealing by lobbyists and special interests. At the time, our legislative body was beholden to monopolies and other deep-pocketed special interests. The interests and well-being of Idahoans were being ignored and, eventually, the initiative process was added to our Constitution to place the people on equal footing with their legislature and to serve as a check against corruption.

Since the adoption of our initiative process, the citizens of Idaho have only filed 37 ballot initiatives. Out of those, only 16 have garnered enough votes to become law. The very first ballot initiative that was approved by Idaho Voters created the Idaho Fish and Game Commission. Other notable laws passed directly by Idaho citizens include establishing our State Lottery Commission, and our Sunshine Laws which require transparency in campaign contributions and lobbyist gifts.

When a legislature was in the pocket of a powerful interest, the people could put a measure on the ballot to make a law that protected them or to repeal a law that oppressed them. When lobbyists repeatedly sandbagged legislation that had wide public support, the voters could take the law into their own hands at the ballot box?

- Jim Jones, former Chief Justice of the Idaho Supreme Court and former Attorney General

The Ballot Initiative: The People's Right

In 2011, the Idaho Legislature passed a package of laws designed to drastically alter our educational system, despite overwhelming opposition by parents, educators and members from both political parties. These measures were placed on the ballot for repeal using the initiative process and, in 2012, were all repealed.

In 2012, Governor Otter formed a group to study the effects of expanding Medicaid in Idaho. The group found that expanding Medicaid would save taxpayers money, strengthen local economies, improve our healthcare infrastructure, and save lives. Despite this recommendation – and the recommendations of healthcare professionals, county governments, economists, the business community, and many others – the Idaho Legislature refused to act on behalf of public will. Idaho citizens came together to collect enough signatures and placed the question of whether Idaho should expand Medicaid directly in the hands of the voters – not to politicians in the hands of special interests. Idahoans resoundly supported this measure.

"All political power is inherent in the people. Government is instituted for their equal protection and benefit, and they have the right to alter, reform or abolish the same whenever they may deem it necessary."
-Article I, Section 2 of the Idaho Constitution

Attacks on Our Constitutional Right to Petition

Some politicians in the Idaho Legislature don’t want the citizens of Idaho to be on equal footing with themselves or believe they are smart enough to pass laws. While the Idaho Constitution guarantees Idahoans’ right to share the power to create laws with the legislature, some politicians, especially those under the influence of lobbyists and special interests, want to deny us our constitutional right by placing obstacles to the people’s right to participate in the initiative process.

Despite previous failed attempts to place burdens on the ballot initiative process because they were considered unconstitutional by the Idaho federal court, some politicians continue to try to undermine our constitutional right:

  • After the successful repeal of the Luna Laws in 2011, the Legislature raised the requirements to qualify an initiative for the ballot, making it extremely difficult for regular Idahoans to exercise their right to make laws.
  • After the successful passage of Medicaid expansion, the legislature passed Senate Bill 1159 in 2019 to further make the initiative process inaccessible to regular Idahoans. The bill would have made Idaho’s ballot initiative process the most difficult in the nation by placing nearly-impossible hurdles for the public to participate in our democracy, ensuring that only well-funded special interest groups could dictate our laws – not the other way around.
  • Although Senate Bill 1159 passed the Legislature, Idahoans continued to fight for their constitutional rights and flooded Governor Brad Little’s office with calls and emails. Over 6,000 voters from across the state submitted their opposition to the bill. Governor Little vetoed the bill, protecting our constitutional right to place issues on the ballot through our initiative process…for now.

Recent News

  • The 5th Annual Idaho Public Policy Survey found that the majority of Idahoans are content with how the current ballot initiative process is, and don’t believe further restrictions should be in place. This belief is held by all partisan groups on a fairly even split.

Take Action Now: Protect Your Constitutional Right

Idaho Legislators have already said that they want to bring this bill back in the 2020 legislative session to take away our right to participate in the lawmaking process.

We can't let lobbyists and special interests take over our democracy. Take action today to urge your legislator to stand up for your constitutional rights and defend Idaho's ballot initiative process!