Idaho’s ‘consolidated elections’ aren’t consolidated enough

Parrish Miller Articles

Last week’s $104 million bond election for the West Ada School District (formerly the Meridian School District) mercifully failed, but advocates of expropriating money from property owners aren’t done yet. In fact, thanks to a loophole in Idaho’s consolidated elections law, they may make another attempt as soon as Nov. 4.

Elections for most taxing districts can occur only on a primary or general election day and, for most of the districts, only once every two years, but school districts operate according to a much more liberal timetable. They are allowed to hold elections “on bonded indebtedness and property tax levy questions” on four different dates throughout the year. In addition to primary and general election days they can also sneak elections in on the second Tuesday in March and the last Tuesday in August.

Historically, elections held on days other than the primary or general election day have exceptionally low turnout—less than 10 percent of eligible voters in the West Ada School District cast a ballot in this last election.

The net result of this situation is that when a levy fails as it did last week, the school district is free to continue running bond elections every few months until they succeed. It’s a one-way system though, that’s very much rigged in the taxing district’s favor. Once a levy is passed (no matter how many times it previously failed), there is no effective way for property owners to extricate themselves from the latest round of coercion that is imposed on them.

In order to remedy this situation, Idaho should remove the exceptions to its consolidated elections law and require that school districts hold bond and levy elections only on either the primary or general election day and only once every two years. In this way property owners would be more effectively protected from the destructive force of taxation and school districts would be required to make their case and live with the results.