Did you remember to vote May 19?
Many didn't, apparently, based on voter turnout. Kootenai County saw only 8 percent of registered voters cast ballots. In Ada County, some bonds and school district trustee races had only 2 – 4 percent turnout. One volunteer in Canyon County reported that after working a thirteen-hour shift at his precinct polling place, only one vote had been cast.
Idaho has a consolidated elections law, but that still allows school-related votes four times per year, and for other votes twice a year—including in May on years with no primary election like 2015. Such frequent elections have negative consequences, including low voter turnout, increased election costs for counties, and a tendency for government officials to run bond and levy elections until they pass.
The Horseshoe Bend School District serves as a perfect example. That district's $600,000 supplemental levy failed last March, but passed in May. What if it had failed again? Horseshoe Bend School District Superintendent Randy Schrader told local media in March, "If the levy fails again in May, we've got another shot in August."
It's a very one-sided system. The districts are free to keep running these levies until they pass, but once they pass, there's no method for aggrieved taxpayers to reverse the process. In Troy, Idaho, a supplemental levy failed in both March and May. Will it return for another run in August? At least some sources indicate it's likely.
There are many possible solutions to this problematic cycle. Some of these include further consolidating elections to increase turnout and decrease the cost to counties, consolidating school districts to decrease the need for supplemental levies and bonds, and requiring a waiting period of one or two years before a single district can run another levy or bond election. Fundamental school funding reform for Idaho schools should also be on the table.
Regardless of how Idaho chooses to address these problems, we must acknowledge that the status quo isn't working. It's not just the schools, either. Meridian, Idaho, had a $785,000 levy on the May 19 ballot for its cemetery district. The levy passed with 59 percent of the votes cast, but only 3.04 percent of eligible voters even bothered to cast a ballot. In other words, just 1.7 percent of Meridian voters were able to increase the taxes of tens of thousands of people.
The United States was founded on the principle of 'no taxation without representation,' and a system which allows a tiny minority to inflict taxation on the whole is not living up to that principle. Idaho can and should do better.