Guest Opinions

Voter education makes an impact

William Overton
William Overton

The recent success of HJR 5 on the November ballot can likely be attributed to efforts toward educating voters on the substance and meaning — as well as the potential impact — of the proposed amendment to the Idaho Constitution. It also provided a good example of how education of the voting public can clarify a political position.

As an adjunct instructor at Boise State University, I have often used the Statesman to illustrate the interplay of political opinions as the editorials provide excellent resource material for class discussion. Most of my classes are comprised of nontraditional students, with some from other countries. Using material from real life adds greatly to what is covered in textbooks.

The re-introduction on the Nov. 8 ballot of HJR5 (an earlier version failed in the 2014 general election) provided an opportunity to discuss ways in which a constitution could be amended as well as the politics involved. As part of a lecture, I distributed copies of the pamphlet sent to voters by the secretary of state for Idaho. I asked if students understood the proposal and how they might vote. They found it a bit hard to follow and questioned how it would apply to them over time.

We discussed how the average voter makes decisions and speculated that most would likely give a brief reading and vote no. If it has been working, don’t fix it. However, any voter who had a bad experience with a rule or regulation promulgated by the bureaucracy would likely be in favor of control through elected officials and not the courts.

We read the arguments put forth by Sen. Jim Risch and Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden and others, as well as the Statesman Editorial Board opinion. We were able to tease out from these arguments that this issue exemplifies the push-pull of determining who has the power in these cases.

We reviewed the Supreme Court case of Marbury v. Madison (1808). Now it became clearer that Wasden was defending the right of the courts to make determinations in any case that should originate while Sen. Risch was promoting the right of the legislative branch to pursue an amendment to the state constitution to solidify its position.

A list of private-sector interests prompted some students to pick up on the possibility of lobbying. We had discussed Alan Rosenthal’s book, “The Third House,” and lobbying at the state level. Lucas Villanueva, a student from The Canary Islands (Spain), was particularly interested in how this worked.

Finally, it came down to the voter question of what is this? How would this impact me? For most voters, it was likely the question of so what and who cares. However, since the proposal passed, we can assume the education provided was sufficient for voters to favor more legislative control.

William Overton, Ph.D., is an adjunct professor of political science at BSU, retired educator and author of the book, “The Stewardship of Homeschooling.” He lives in Eagle.