CRAWFORD/Ballot initiative proposal a scam
The media does a great disservice to the people of Mississippi when it declares that a concurrent resolution under consideration in the Legislature would “restore the public ballot initiative process.”
The daft proposal now under consideration in the Legislature restores nothing.
Remember, in 2021 the Mississippi Supreme Court threw out the state’s ballot initiative process. Adopted in 1992, that process required proponents to gather voter signatures from the five congressional districts then in existence. After Mississippi lost the fifth district in 2003, that requirement became technically unachievable. Since the court decision, the Legislature has been under pressure to restore ballot initiatives.
Remember, too, the constitution itself gives the people of this state “the inherent, sole, and exclusive right … to alter and abolish their constitution and form of government whenever they deem it necessary to their safety and happiness.” But it provided no means to do so. The 1992 ballot initiative process provided that means.
The new proposal does not restore that means. Rather than allowing citizens to amend their state constitution, it would only allow them to propose, amend, or repeal state laws.
That’s a substantive difference. For example, the Legislature cannot change a constitutional provision without voter approval. A state law enacted through the new proposal could be changed or abolished by the Legislature at any time after it was implemented.
The new proposal would also make it extremely difficult to get a referendum petition certified.
Previously, proponents had 12 months to gather signatures totaling 12% of the total vote in the most recent gubernatorial election. The new proposal would allow only 9 months to gather 12% of the total number of qualified electors registered as of the prior gubernatorial election.
That is another substantive difference. Many registered voters do not vote. In 2019, the Mississippi Secretary of State reported about 1.9 million people were registered to vote. The Secretary of State later reported actual voter turnout in the November 2019 race for governor was 884,911. That computes to a 47% turnout rate. Based on that race, instead of 106,190 signatures, proponents would need to gather about 228,000 signatures.
Even worse, the new proposal would require a least 100 signatures from each of the state’s 82 counties. It would also restrict the number of signatures from any one county to 10% or less of the total, limiting the signatures from heavily populated counties.
The added signature and every-county requirements amount to poison pills for future referendums. Incurring the effort and costs to gather so many signatures to get a proposal on the ballot which could be undone by the Legislature after the fact would be foolish.
The pending resolution is nothing more than a scam. It lets legislators pretend they are restoring the initiative process when they are not.
Of course, they really don’t want voters to have much control over their government.
“See that no one leads you astray” – Mark 13:5.
Crawford is a syndicated columnist from Jackson. He was a member of Gov. Haley Barbour’s PERS Study Committee in 2011.