Guest Opinions

Vote ‘yes’ to vote ‘no’ on Boise library, stadium plans

When is the last time you had to vote “yes” to vote “no” or vote “no” to vote “yes”?

This will be a first in my experience when voters go to the polls on Nov. 5. Two of the most contentious issues to come before the City Council and the voters of Boise in some time are mired in language that confuses and obfuscates.

Simply put, if you want to vote “no” on the current plan for a new library originally priced at $80 million, with latest estimates at $104 million, then vote “yes.” This is not a misprint. You must vote “yes” to call for a referendum on the issue at a later date.

If you vote “no,” you will be voting for the city of Boise to undertake the library as proposed without the need for any referendum.

If voters decide to hold a referendum on the library by voting “yes,” that second referendum will be scheduled in the spring. Then, voters can vote “yes” for the original library proposal or “no” to oppose the current plan, which will likely mean a library renovation of some kind that will be more reasonably priced and leave the Cabin in its current location.

To add even further confusion to these issues, a statement written by the Boise Public Library Foundation that appears in the voters guide sent to all Boise registered voters claims that the City Council placed a special question on the ballot so citizens could vote directly on whether to proceed with the library. Voters will not find such an option on the ballot. That claim is inaccurate and just undermines the trust voters must have in a voters guide. The only option for those opposing the library is to vote “yes” for a future referendum on the library.

Voters will find the same choice regarding the baseball stadium. If you want to vote against the proposed baseball stadium, vote “yes,” which would bring another referendum to the ballot later that would be a straight up-or-down vote on the baseball stadium. If you vote “no,” then you are voting for the current plan to have the city help finance a baseball stadium.

It’s most unfortunate how misleading these two questions are for voters. The very least government officials and election authorities can do is make the choices as easy to understand as possible. In the case of the library and the stadium votes, the Boise ballot flunks the test.

How we arrived at questions that require “yes” if you mean “no” and “no” if you mean “yes” seems buried in bureaucratic, legal and political machinations beyond the scope of this column. City Hall, of course, did not want a referendum on either of these, content to hold hearings in council chambers and leave it at that.

There may be good reason under current election law and practice that accounts for this confusing approach to what should be a simple vote -- up or down for the library and up or down for the stadium. But the byzantine approach to citizen input on these two issues will certainly raise eyebrows about how much of this mess was intentional.

We live in a time of fake news, conspiracies, blatant lies and hypocrisy at the highest levels of our government, and it doesn’t take much for some voters to assume that such behavior has trickled down to local government, as well. Although the lawyers may be able to make the perfect case for how we got here, requiring voters to respond in a counterintuitive fashion to express their will is not the most effective way to gauge the sense of the electorate.

When you get into the voting booth, take all the time you need to read the fine print and vote accordingly. And remember, “yes” means “no,” and “no” means “yes” when it comes to the library and stadium initiatives.

Bob Kustra served as president of Boise State University from 2003 to 2018. He is host of Readers Corner on Boise State Public Radio and is a member of the Statesman editorial board.
Related stories from Idaho Statesman