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New bill in Idaho Legislature would eliminate March and August school elections

Idaho Rep. Joe Alfieri, R-Coeur d’ Alene, listens to a fellow lawmaker on the House floor at the State Capitol in Boise on Jan. 9, 2023. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)
Otto Kitsinger
Idaho Rep. Joe Alfieri, R-Coeur d’ Alene, listens to a fellow lawmaker on the House floor at the State Capitol in Boise on Jan. 9, 2023. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)

If bill passes, all school district elections would take place in May or November

A new bill introduced in the Legislature on Tuesday would eliminate Idaho’s March and August school bond and levy election dates and move nonpartisan school elections into alignment with election days for partisan elections in May and November.

First-year Rep. Joe Alfieri, R-Coeur d’Alene, said he wants to eliminate two of the four possible dates on the calendar for school bond and levy elections because he believes those elections are dishonest.

Idaho currently has a consolidated elections calendar in state law that allows school districts to hold elections only on four specific days a year:

  • The second Tuesday in March.
  • The third Tuesday in May.
  • The last Tuesday in August.
  • The first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. 

A school district has to provide public notice before conducting any election.
“The real issue though, I think, is that what we have here is dishonesty toward the voters because you don’t get do-overs when you lose an election,” Alfieri told the House State Affairs Committee on Tuesday. “And I will tell you that having run for mayor in Coeur d’Alene and losing, I would have liked to have a do-over because I think I would have won that second election. But that’s not the point; I think it’s just wrong to do it.”

If Alfieri’s bill is passed into law, school districts would only be allowed to run bond and levy elections in May or November..

Members of the House State Affairs Committee voted Tuesday to introduce Alfieri’s new bill, which clears the way for the bill to return to the committee for a full public hearing. Tuesday’s hearing was only an introductory, or print, hearing, and public testimony was not accepted.

Alfieri thinks his bill will provide the benefits of increased voter turnout and lower costs, since there will be fewer elections to run each year.

Turnout is generally lower in nonpartisan school elections than during the May and November election dates. For example, in March 2021, turnout was 8.9% for the Kuna School District’s proposed two-year, $2.5 million supplemental levy, according to the Ada County Elections Office. For the November 2021 election, which included Boise, Eagle, Garden City, Kuna and Meridian city council races, local school board elections and a West Ada School District supplemental levy, turnout was 23.8%.

Alfieri’s bill will be given a bill number and posted on the Idaho Legislature’s website later on Tuesday or Wednesday once it is read across the floor of the Idaho House of Representatives.

Idaho Republicans have pushed to reduce school election dates before

This is not the first time Republican legislators have tried to reduce the number of school election dates.

  • In 2020, House Bill 393 would have also eliminated the March and August school election dates. The Idaho House of Representatives voted 45-20 to pass the bill, but it never advanced in the Idaho Senate. 
  • In 2021, House Bill 106 would have eliminated the August school election date. That bill also passed the Idaho House — on a 45-24 vote — but never advanced in the Idaho Senate. 

An Idaho Education News analysis of school bond and levy elections from 2020 found that March is the most popular date of the year for school districts to run bond and levy elections. During the six years from 2014 to 2019, 59% of school bond and levy elections in Idaho were run on the March date, Idaho EdNews found.

At the time, former Idaho School Boards Association executive director Karen Echeverria told Idaho EdNews the March election date is about timing. Echeverria said school districts need to issue teacher contracts by June 1 and the March election date allows them to run a supplemental levy before voters to fill in any gaps for salaries and benefits. By the third week of May, it’s already too late to help, Echeverria said.

The Idaho Capital Sun is a nonprofit news organization delivering accountability reporting on state government, politics and policy in the Gem state.