Idaho Senate OKs bill creating new election voter guide that will be mailed to Idahoans
Secretary of State estimates new guide would cost $750,000 to cover its design, production and mailing
Idaho Secretary of State Phil McGrane is sworn in on the steps of the State Capitol building on Jan. 6, 2023. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)
The Idaho Senate on Wednesday voted to pass a bill that calls for the Idaho secretary of state to create and mail a free, informational voter guide to every Idaho household before state primary and general elections.
Idaho Secretary of State Phil McGrane brought Senate Bill 1078 forward as a way to expand upon and replace the current voter’s pamphlet that is now mailed to Idahoans.
If the bill is passed into law, the new voter guide would include information about federal and state candidates for office, including state judicial candidates. The new guide would include information on voter registration, voting requirements and important dates and deadlines on top of the existing information included in the voter pamphlets, which only present information about constitutional amendments, ballot initiatives or referendums. The new voter guide would be prepared and tailored to each of the state’s 35 legislative districts so that voters would know what is on their specific ballot.
McGrane estimated the cost of offering the new voter guide would be $750,000 to cover the design, production and sending the voter guide out.
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To facilitate the voter guide, candidates would have seven days from the candidate filing deadline to submit a 200-word statement, contact information and a photograph to the Idaho Secretary of State’s Office.
Sen. Lori Den Hartog, R-Meridian, sponsored the voter guide bill on the Senate floor and said it would increase awareness about candidates and issues and increase transparency surrounding elections.
“What this would do is provide an unbiased resource for people to know what is going to be on their ballot,” Den Hartog said during her floor debate at the Idaho State Capitol.
Den Hartog said one of the most common questions she receives when meeting with voters is how to find out what is going to be on the ballot.
Some Republican senators voice opposition on voter guide bill
A handful of Republican senators who identify themselves as part of the Idaho Freedom Caucus debated and voted against the voter guide bill, including Sens. Brian Lenney, R-Nampa; Scott Herndon, R-Sagle; and Tammy Nichols, R-Middleton.
Opponents of the bill called the voter guide an expansion of government and unnecessary expense. Herndon went further, saying he opposes the voter guide because they would provide information to Idahoans about the primary elections.
“So we have to remember there is no right to vote for a party nominee,” Herndon said. “And I don’t think the state ought to be helping in the party nomination process.”
In 2011, the Idaho Republican Party sued the state over open primary elections, and the Idaho Legislature passed House Bill 351 to implement a closed primary system that is only open to members of the party. The 2011 law does allow political parties to open their primaries to unaffiliated voters, or voters from other parties.
The Idaho Republican Party runs a closed primary election that is only open to voters who officially affiliate with the Republican Party. However, the Idaho Democratic Party’s primary elections are open to all voters, regardless of party affiliation.
Sen. Geoff Schroeder, R-Mountain Home, read from a 1908 court case stating Idahoans have a legal right to participate in primary elections and pointed out that primary elections are paid for by taxpayers and run and governed by state laws.
“If it is the intent for the political party to be completely private, then they can get out of state funding for it,” Schroeder said in his floor debate. “I believe that this voter guide is essential both in primary and general elections, and I support this bill.”
Sen. Abby Lee, R-Fruitland, said the new voter guide would increase elections transparency.
“Many of us live in rural communities where that information is limited,” Lee said in her floor debate.
“In particular this is an opportunity in one of the areas that is lesser-known — our judicial elections,” Lee added.
In the end, the Senate voted 24-11 to pass the bill to create the voter guide.
Having passed the Senate, Senate Bill 1078 heads next to the Idaho House of Representatives for consideration. If the bill passes there, it would go to Gov. Brad Little for final consideration. If the bill passes the House and reaches his desk, Little could sign the bill into law, allow it to become law without his signature or veto it.
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