BOISE, Idaho (AP) - A federal judge on Tuesday ordered Idaho officials to accept online signatures for an effort aimed at putting a $170 million education funding initiative on the November ballot.
U.S. District Court Judge B. Lynn Winmill issued the order after Idaho balked at his order last week for state officials to choose between accepting online signatures for the effort or simply agreeing to place the initiative on the ballot.
The education funding initiative seeks to raise $170 million for K-12 education by raising Idaho's corporate tax rate and increasing taxes on individuals making $250,000 a year or higher.
Reclaim Idaho, a group that backs citizen initiatives, in a lawsuit filed earlier this month said that Republican Gov. Brad Little's statewide stay-at-home order in late March due to the coronavirus pandemic didn't include exceptions for ballot initiative signature gathering.
The group in the lawsuit against Little and Secretary of State Lawerence Denney, also a Republican, said that violated the First Amendment-protected process of signature gathering, a form of political speech.
The group won in court last week and on Monday filed a expedited motion asking Winmill to enforce his order from last week, prompting Tuesday's new order.
The order, if not appealed, means Idaho will have to extend signature gathering about seven weeks and allow the electronic signatures - something the state has never before allowed for ballot initiatives.
Little spokeswoman Marissa Morrison did not immediately respond to an email Tuesday asking whether the ruling on electronic signatures would be appealed. Scott Graf, spokesman for the attorney general's office, said that office had no comment on the order.
Winmill's order directs attorneys for both sides to craft a plan for the state to collect online signatures. If no agreement is reached by July 9, Reclaim Idaho can begin collecting the signatures.
Luke Mayville, a co-founder of Reclaim Idaho, said the group is ready to hire DocuSign, a company that specializes in digital signatures.
Mayville said that about 33,000 signatures, or about half the total needed to put the initiative on the ballot, had been collected before the pandemic halted signature gathering.
He estimated that if state officials choose not to participate in electronic signature gathering, it will cost more than $30,000 to get the remaining signatures by hiring DocuSign.
The group must also collect a minimum number of signatures in multiple legislative districts.
"It's not going to be easy," Mayville said. "We are pretty far along in the geographic distribution, but we're going to have to target key districts that we are going to have to qualify."