Opponents to Idaho's new education laws have two-thirds of the required signatures they need to put those reforms up to a public vote next fall. The Idaho secretary of state's office reports that all three referendum efforts have more than 31,000 verified signatures. All three efforts, to repeal three pieces of legislation backed by state schools chief Tom Luna and most Republican lawmakers, need 47,432 signatures before going on the November 2012 ballot.
Mike Lanza, one of the organizers of the signature collecting for the group Idahoans for Responsible Education Reform, said he expects to turn in enough valid signatures by the June 1 deadline.
“We're not going to know until the clerks have got everything entered if they've got enough,” said Tim Hurst, the chief deputy secretary of state. “We also know there are a lot of signatures that have not been checked by the clerks yet.”
Luna's spokeswoman, Melissa McGrath, said the superintendent's office is focused on implementing the reforms that are now on the books, not the potential referendum. The new laws would change many areas of the state educational system, including increasing technology in classrooms, creating pay for performance bonuses for teachers, reducing state funding for educators and eliminating some of teachers' bargaining powers.
Only signatures from people registered to vote in Idaho will count toward the final tally. People collecting signatures for the referendum turn their signatures into county clerks offices, where election officials check the names against a list of registered voters. That process weeds out duplicates or those not registered to vote, and adds to the clerks' workload.
Ada County, home to one of every four Idahoans, has verified more than 10,500 signatures for all three petitions, a third of the statewide total. Elections Supervisor Jo Spencer said the clerk's offiice now has 18 temporary workers checking signatures full-time.
“With Ada County being the largest county in the state, we are going to get the largest number of petitions to check,” she said. “We won't know until we're done what the cost is.”
Spencer said workers are finding that about half of the signatures turned in to Ada County aren't valid, which she said is typical for signature collecting efforts.
Hurst said that error rate could be due to some people signing multiple petitions.
Carrie Phillips, who supervises elections for Kootenai County in north Idaho, said that less than 10 percent of signatures turned in there aren't valid. “They may have more voters that aren't registered,” Phillips told IdahoReporter.com.
Phillips said her office hasn't hired any extra workers to check signatures. So far, more than 1,700 signatures have been turned in to Kootenai County, the state's third most populous. She also said the county received a huge box of petitions this week, and that Tuesday's consolidated efforts slowed efforts to check signatures.
An election official with Bonneville County in east Idaho say some employees are working extra hours checking the referendum petitions and that there are fewer errors on than in previous petitions.
Along with the petition, there's also an effort to recall Luna. Morgan Hill, one of the organizers of the recall, said they have more than 25,000 signatures. That effort has a much higher hurdle to clear, needing more than 150,000 signatures by late June.
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