TWIN FALLS • A group seeking to get a measure on May ballots banning refugee centers in Twin Falls County is up against the clock.
Conservative activist Rick Martin and other volunteers have been gathering signatures since October. But they’re far short of what they need.
They’ve gathered about 1,500 signatures, but haven’t turned them all in. The Twin Falls County Clerk’s Office has certified only 219 so far — and a total of 3,842 are required.
But Martin’s group is still pushing. “We’re making progress every week,” he said, and he plans to turn in another batch of signatures soon.
To get on the May ballot in Twin Falls County, the group needs to turn in signatures by early April.
At this point, the group will most likely be looking at a November election date instead of May, said Twin Falls County Clerk Kristina Glascock.
Martin said he’s thinking about advertising where community members can go on Saturdays to sign a petition.
So far, he and his volunteers have been collecting signatures mostly at post offices and door-to-door in Twin Falls County neighborhoods. But bitterly cold temperatures have been a challenge.
“The weather has really slowed us down,” he said.
They’ve also held town hall meetings in the Filer and Buhl areas, and coordinated with businesses to leave petitions at some checkstands.
The ballot initiative would ban refugee centers in Twin Falls County and forbid county commissioners from trying to repeal it for a year after its enactment.
County Prosecuting Attorney Grant Loebs — who reviews proposed ballot measures before they are approved — has expressed doubts about whether some of the provisions are legal or enforceable.
Controversy over refugee resettlement erupted after an April announcement by the College of Southern Idaho Refugee Center that it expected to receive 300 refugees — possibly, some from Syria — during the fiscal year starting Oct. 1.
This summer, Martin — who lives in Buhl — formed the “Committee to End the CSI Refugee Center.”
But other community members have rallied in support of the Refugee Center, which has operated in Twin Falls since the 1980s.
Getting Signatures Certified
Martin told the Times-News in October his group’s goal is to gather about 4,300 signatures to ensure they have enough in case some get challenged.
Typically, about 50 percent of signatures are disqualified, Glascock said.
The Twin Falls County Clerk’s Office frequently certifies signatures for statewide ballot initiatives, she said, but it’s rare to see something from a local group.
One of the most prominent statewide examples: three propositions on ballots in November 2012 to repeal Students Come First — a package of education reform laws. Voters overturned all three laws.
Another example: The pro-marijuana group New Approach Idaho submitted a citizen’s initiative petition in March 2015. It aims to create a medical marijuana program in Idaho and decriminalize small amounts for adults.
But they face a massive challenge. They need to gather signatures from 6 percent of the voting population in at least 18 of Idaho’s legislative districts by April to get on the November 2016 ballot.
The Twin Falls County Clerk’s Office approved the form of the petition Oct. 5 for the refugee initiative. Martin’s group has 180 days from that date to gather signatures.
Signatures must be from registered voters in Twin Falls County. The clerk’s office checks each signature to see if matches the person’s signature on their voter registration card.
Plus, they make sure each signer is registered to vote and that their listed address is what the county has on file, Glascock said. “It all has to match up.”