Electioneering Directly On The Ballot?
By Brian Stutzman
Imagine retreating to the voting booth to mark your ballot, only to find these words written by the name of one candidate:
electing this candidate is “necessary to increase the protection of its resident’s public health, life, and property.”
You would probably be shocked! However, this exact language was on a recent Idaho ballot.
It described not a candidate, but rather a tax levy vote for Rock Creek Rural Fire Protection District. Sadly, many Idaho ballots have recently become the place for taxing districts to add extra language, which has every appearance of electioneering. In Idaho, the content of the ballot language, beyond what is currently legally required, is completely at the discretion of the taxing districts.
Besides outright campaigning, as shown above, some taxing districts appear to be gaming the system by another method as well. They are carefully selecting ballot language with cherry-picked financial information which seems designed to garner a vote in favor of the proposal.
Worse, unrelated financial matters are sometimes included on the ballot, speculating what might happen to future tax rates. One of several examples is the March 9, 2021, supplemental levy for Lakeland Joint School District 272. After the required ballot language, the district has inserted several items including information about a different tax which they collect for their bonds. On the ballot for their unrelated supplemental levy, their language reads “…the District collects a bond levy which is expected to decrease by $12 per $100,000 of taxable assessed value. Therefore, the estimated average annual cost to the taxpayer per $100,000 of taxable assessed value will not change.”
WOW! Apparently they are fortune tellers! Besides mixing information about a proposed supplemental levy tax with existing bond taxes, the ballot does not say when this other bond tax is expected to be reduced. They might as well state they expect the price of gas or lunch food to go down, thus lowering their operating costs and associated funding they need. Or better yet, why don’t they just put “if you are smart you will vote yes?”
To be fair, if there are relevant financial matters patrons should know about, the taxing district certainly has the right, in fact, the obligation, to inform voters through many various ways such as newsletters, press releases, and websites. In fact, a fuller disclosure explaining all the district’s finances would be welcomed. But to put a selective sentence or two right on the ballot seems wrong and manipulative, if not outright deceptive. It appears to be electioneering. And right now, county clerks are obligated to print on the ballot whatever language the taxing district sends them, even if the wording says “if you are smart you will vote yes.”
To stop this practice, bill HB66 was introduced this session in the Idaho Legislature. This bill prohibits the addition of extra language to the ballot. It passed the House and now sits in the Idaho State Senate awaiting a hearing. Sadly, some taxing districts have lobbied Senate leaders to kill HB66.
If you think campaigning directly on the ballot is wrong, then please contact your state Senator and ask for their help in getting this bill a Senate hearing.
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