Ballot Initiative Supporters in Idaho Submit Signatures

Initiative would expand Medicaid eligibility to an estimated 51,000 to 62,000 residents

By Tristan Scott

BOISE, Idaho — Supporters for two high-profile ballot initiatives say they have collected more than enough signatures to put their issues before voters in November.

Monday was the deadline to collect signatures, with organizers spending Tuesday dropping off signature lists to county clerks to be verified.

One initiative would expand Medicaid eligibility to an estimated 51,000 to 62,000 Idahoans without medical coverage.

The battle over whether to expand Medicaid has previously taken place inside state legislatures — including Idaho — since former President Barack Obama’s health care reform law was enacted in 2010. However, after nearly six years of opposition from Republican state lawmakers, Idaho activists decided to take a new approach with the use of a ballot initiative.

If successful, Idaho would join 32 other states and the District of Columbia in expanding Medicaid as part of the Affordable Care Act. Nebraska and Utah are also currently in the midst of similar ballot initiatives, and Maine passed one last year. An initiative in Montana was just cleared to gather signatures that would raise the tax on a pack of cigarettes to help generate revenue to fund Medicaid expansion.

The other initiative would legalize lucrative betting terminals known as instant horse machines.

Between 2013 and 2015, roughly 200 instant horse racing machines were installed at a handful of tracks in Idaho, but lawmakers banned them in 2015 after deeming them too similar to illegal slot machines. The repeal effort generated outrage from the horse racing industry, claiming Idaho’s tribes were unfairly trying to squelch competition because they currently have a monopoly on video gambling.

So far, the Coeur d’Alene Tribe has come out the strongest against legalizing the machines because it argues the terminals do not use pari-mutuel wagering — a betting system that pits bettors against each other and gives the house a percentage of the winnings — which is allowed under Idaho law.

Save Idaho Horse Racing has accused the tribe of harassing and bribing signature canvassers and has filed several reports to law endorsement officials, but to date no charges have been filed.

Statewide ballot initiatives must have signatures from 6 percent of the total of those who voted in the last presidential election from 18 legislative districts. That means the groups must have at least 56,192 verified signatures to make it on the November ballot.

A ballot initiative hasn’t qualified for the November ballot since 2013.

County clerks now have until June 30 to ensure the signatures came from registered voters.

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