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Court finds AG Labrador 'failed' to comply with law in ballot initiative suit

Gage Skidmore
Flickr Creative Commons

Idaho Attorney General Raúl Labrador will need to rewrite ballot descriptions of a proposed initiative aiming to open up Idaho’s primary elections and implement ranked choice voting.

In a unanimous decision released Thursday afternoon, the Idaho Supreme Court found that Labrador’s office “failed to substantially comply” with state law when it drafted its descriptions of the initiative.

The opinion written by Justice Colleen Zahn found the AG’s office made up its own term, “nonparty blanket primary,” to label what part of the initiative would do.

Idaho law requires the AG to craft these descriptions using words by which the measure is commonly referred to. Creating a term sidesteps that requirement, justices said.

If implemented, the measure would allow voters to cast their ballot for any candidate, regardless of party affiliation, during a primary election.

Currently, only registered Republicans can vote in the GOP primary. Registered Democrats and unaffiliated voters may vote in that party’s primary, though historically, the state party's leadership has allowed registered Republicans to also request a Democratic ballot.

Zahn found that other sections of the descriptions are also “likely to prejudice” voters against the initiative.

Justices declined to extend the deadline these groups have to collect and turn in enough signatures to get the issue on the ballot, saying they didn’t have the legal authority to do so. That deadline is April 30, 2024.

Labrador’s office must submit revised versions of these descriptions to the Idaho Supreme Court by 4 p.m. Friday.

"If the Attorney General’s new ballot titles are not substantially compliant with the statutory requirements, we will reevaluate whether due process requires that we prepare the ballot titles and certify them directly to the Secretary of State in order to prevent a violation of Petitioners’ fundamental right of direct legislation under the Idaho Constitution," justices wrote.

Editor's note: This story previously stated registered Democrats and unaffiliated voters can vote in the Democratic Party Primary. That's true, though historically, party leadership has also allowed registered Republicans to request a Democratic ballot. That permission must be renewed each election cycle.

Follow James Dawson on Twitter @RadioDawson for more local news.

Copyright 2023 Boise State Public Radio

Copyright 2023 Boise State Public Radio News. To see more, visit Boise State Public Radio News.

James Dawson joined Boise State Public Radio as the organization's News Director in 2017. He oversees the station's award-winning news department. Most recently, he covered state politics and government for Delaware Public Media since the station first began broadcasting in 2012 as the country's newest NPR affiliate. Those reports spanned two governors, three sessions of the Delaware General Assembly, and three consequential elections. His work has been featured on All Things Considered and NPR's newscast division. An Idaho native from north of the time zone bridge, James previously served as the public affairs reporter and interim news director for the commercial radio network Inland Northwest Broadcasting. His reporting experience included state and local government, arts and culture, crime, and agriculture. He's a proud University of Idaho graduate with a bachelor's degree in Broadcasting and Digital Media. When he's not in the office, you can find James fly fishing, buffing up on his photography or watching the Seattle Mariners' latest rebuilding season.