by Logan Finney, Idaho Reports
The Idaho Supreme Court has thrown out a set of initiative titles from Attorney General Raúl Labrador’s office, which described a package of election reforms proposed to be placed on the ballot. A Thursday afternoon opinion ordered the attorney general to provide the court with new “revised, substantially compliant” ballot titles by 4 p.m. on Friday.
The unanimous opinion, written by Justice Colleen Zahn, found that Labrador’s “nonparty blanket primary” title is not common language used to refer to the initiative, as required by law, and is likely to cause prejudice against it and risk confusing voters.
“We conclude that the Attorney General has failed to establish that the term ‘nonparty blanket primary’ is how the measure is commonly referred to or spoken of in Idaho. We have been unable to identify any court in the United States, including the United States Supreme Court, who has used the term in a published decision. It also does not appear that the term has been used elsewhere. Instead, it appears that the term is one of the Attorney General’s own creation,” Zahn wrote. “While the Attorney General’s references establish that the term is used among some circles, such as scholars, lawyers, judges, and legislators, that does not establish that it is how the public commonly refers to the measure.”
The court said the term is similar to U.S. Supreme Court precedent regarding a “nonpartisan blanket primary,” yet different enough to cause confusion among voters regarding its constitutionality.
The court did side with Labrador in his opposition to using the term “open primary” to describe the initiative; Idaho has a history with a previous open primary system that is different than that proposed in the initiative.
They also ruled that “ranked choice voting” and “instant runoff voting” can be used interchangeably to describe the proposed system; the phrasing of “require ranked choice voting” while leaving out the word “system” is potentially misleading; yet using the words “replace” or “require” themselves are not inherently prejudicial against an initiative proposal.
“Petitioners argue this language inaccurately suggests that the Initiative requires voters to rank each candidate. The Attorney General argues that the short title only conveys that the Initiative requires a ranked choice voting system,” Zahn wrote. “We are unpersuaded by the Attorney General’s argument.”
The court retained jurisdiction over the matter and will review the new ballot titles that it ordered Labrador to procure in just over 24 hours. If the court finds those titles unworkable as well, it may consider writing the titles and sending them to the Secretary of State.
“We agree that the general title’s description of the tabulation process is likely to prejudice the Initiative because it fails to accurately explain a key feature of ranked choice voting: that a vote for an eliminated candidate will be transferred to the voter’s next-highest ranked active candidate.”
The court did not grant the initiative organizers’ request to extend the signature gathering period as a result of the legal delay. It did award legal fees, however.
Logan Finney | Associate Producer
Logan Finney is a North Idaho native with a passion for media production and boring government meetings. He grew up skiing, hunting and hiking in the mountains of Bonner County and has maintained a lifelong interest in the state’s geography, history and politics. Logan joined the Idaho Reports team in 2020 as a legislative session intern and stayed to cover the COVID-19 pandemic. He was hired as an associate producer in 2021 and they haven’t been able to get rid of him since.