In 1911, swept up in the reformist spirit of the times, the Idaho
legislature approved an I&R amendment to the state constitution, which
was approved by voters the following year. But the amendment was
flawed: it did not specify the number of petition signatures required to
qualify an initiative for the ballot. This meant that the legislature could set
the threshold - and change it at any time. No initiative could qualify for
the ballot until the legislature passed a bill to set the signature
requirement. The legislature did this in 1915, but Governor Moses
Alexander vetoed the bill because he thought the requirement
unreasonable. Two decades went by before another such bill was

The first initiative to qualify for the ballot was one to establish the state
Fish and Game Commission; the voters approved it in 1938 by a margin of
three to one. In 1954, voters passed an anti-pollution measure to ban
dredge mining in riverbeds.

In 1974, Idaho voters passed an initiative calling for greater disclosure
of campaign contributions and expenditures. In 1978, they approved a
property tax cut initiative patterned after California’s Proposition 13, but
the legislature amended it to benefit businesses rather than homeowners.

In 1982, Idaho voters passed an initiative cutting taxes for
homeowners, and in the same year they approved two other measures:
one allowing denture technicians to compete with dentists in the sale and
fitting of dentures and another supporting the development of nuclear
power. This was the only statewide initiative supporting nuclear power that
has ever been passed.

In early 1984, anti-initiative forces - primarily timber, mining, and
farming interests - persuaded their friends in the legislature to double the
number of signatures required to put an initiative on the ballot. The bill was
introduced without a hearing, voted on, and sent to the governor’s desk
within 24 hours. However, initiative supporters reached Governor John
Evans first and persuaded him to veto the bill. In 1999, these same forces,
along with anti term limits advocates, convinced the state legislature to
once again over regulate and restrict the initiative process. This time they
were successful. The new law drastically increased the distribution
requirement for initiatives that lead to the fact that not a single initiative
qualified for the 2000 ballot. However, in litigation sponsored by the
Initiative & Referendum Institute, the Federal District Court for Idaho struck
down the new regulation as unconstitutional.

Excerpted from the Initiative & Referendum Almanac by M. Dane Waters.