POCATELLO, Idaho (KIFI) - A bill that once had broad support from Idaho city governments is now another controversial piece of legislation floating through the Idaho legislature this year.
Pocatello Mayor Brian Blad is speaking out against Senate Bill 1111, calling it "a bad idea altogether,” that would make city governments a partisan issue.
The bill was originally meant to offer guidance on an unclear law that requires cities of more than 100,000 people to elect their city councils by districts. Blad said he supported that.
But then on April 14, the House voted to amend the bill to change city election years from odd numbered years to even years, to be clumped in with the general elections, beginning in 2024.
"(The bill) got to the House, where they added all this other stuff in an attempt, I believe, to override the voters, to override the desire of the cities and to have a fair and equitable election for municipalities,” Blad said.
Blad, who's been Mayor of Pocatello for about 11 years, said municipal government is supposed to be non-partisan.
“What I love about city politics is it doesn’t matter if you identify with left or right, what matters is when we sit down at the table with city issues, all of the left and right goes away and we’re considering one community,” Blad said.
Blad believes clumping local elections with general elections will encourage more partisanship and division in city government.
Proponents for the bill, like Rep. Ron Nate, R-Rexburg, disagree. Nate argues there are already non-partisan elections held during even years, like bond issues and judges.
"Its common to have races on your general election ballot that are non-partisan in nature. So, there's no reason to worry about whether they're going to turn into partisan races because we already have that distinction made on ballots currently," Nate said.
In a phone call with KIFI, Bannock County Elections Manager Julie Hancock and Clerk Jason Dixon agreed the bill's revision would cost county elections offices more money to conduct multiple races at once, because of the cost for the different ballot styles needed for each race, saying a tiny election could cost $50,000.
However, Nate believes the switch would actually save money.
"Putting them together should save money. Yeah, ballots might be a little bit longer so there might be incremental cost in the even years, but that's more than offset by the fewer number of elections needed," Nate said.
But expense isn't the driving factor for proponents. Nate and his constituents believes holding all elections during even years will increase voter turnout.
"The main benefit of changing from odd years to even years is it will give residents and voters a greater voice. There will be more participation," Nate said.
Typically, more voters turn out for general and state elections. During the 2020 general election in Bannock County, 40,070 ballots were cast, compared to the 2019 city and school election where 9,058 ballots were cast.
But Blad calls that a “weak argument," and that local races would be forgotten amidst the hype of partisan county, state and federal elections.
“What happens is the municipal government (elections), you're not going to get the votes for anyway. People aren’t going to fill out the ballots because they’re there for one purpose. And often at the end of the ballot, those questions are left blank," Blad said.
The bill was scheduled for its' third reading in the Senate on Tuesday, but the Senate voted to recess until Friday while the House catches up.
Pocatello and Chubbuck's next Mayoral elections are Nov. 2. If the bill is passed by the Senate and signed into law, it would mean the Mayoral terms are only for 3 years, so they would be up for re-election in 2024.