Idaho Supreme Court Says Election Ballots Must Be Free of Political Messages

Affiliate: ACLU of Idaho
December 6, 2000 12:00 am

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BOISE, ID — The Idaho Supreme Court today struck down a 1998 initiative that forced the state to label candidates who choose to take a term-limits pledge. The Court ruled the ballot labeling scheme was an unconstitutional violation of Idahoans’ right to vote.

“The Court’s ruling affirms that our state government cannot interfere with a citizen’s fundamental right to vote,” said Jack Van Valkenburgh, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho. “If the Court had upheld this law Idaho could have faced a future with more voting problems than those we recently have seen in Florida.”

The ACLU filed the challenge to the law on behalf of both supporters and opponents of term limits who asserted the law unconstitutionally damaged the integrity of the electoral process by the addition of political messages designed to coerce both voters and candidates.

In its opinion, the Court agreed with the ACLU’s opinion that the 1998 law invaded the sanctity of the ballot box by forcing government-sponsored political speech.

“This case was not about term limits, it was about protecting the integrity of our elections,” said Kurt D. Holzer, a volunteer ACLU attorney who argued the case before the Supreme Court. “If this labeling was permitted, the next label would be about candidates’ positions on abortion, the death penalty, or the breaching of dams to save salmon.”

In addition to the ACLU’s Van Valkenburgh, petitioners included former U.S. Senate candidate W. Anthony Park, former U.S. Congressional candidate Penny Fletcher, and former Idaho gubernatorial candidate Larry Eastland.

“Under our Constitution, there is absolutely no form of intimidation in the election process by government that can be allowed,” said Eastland, who co-founded Idaho’s original term limits organization.

“Coercion and liberty cannot both exist on the same ballot,” he said.

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