Mississippians are still asking state leaders to fix the ballot initiative process

Published: Apr. 7, 2023 at 7:31 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - If you have an issue you think the legislature has ignored, you’ll have to keep waiting if you were thinking of going around them using a ballot initiative. This is a topic we’ve been talking about for two years now. But again, lawmakers failed to take action on it.

“Once again, our legislature has failed the citizens of Mississippi,” said citizen activist and Initiative 65 organizer Jonathan Brown.

How many signatures should you have to collect to put an issue on the ballot? That was the main sticking point between the House and Senate the last two sessions. Still, there is no fix for the initiative process.

“I think people will continue to demand this,” said Dr. John Gaudet, pediatrician Initiative 76 organizer.

Citizen activist Jonathan Brown notes that it’s an election year. He’s hopeful more people will ask leaders what happened and how they plan to fix it before voting.

“Not only have they pushed back the possibility of a ballot initiative existing for another year, but even that implementation, once it happens, let’s say best case scenario, next year, we get it back, there’s still going to be a lot of time before we can even utilize a ballot initiative,” said Brown. “And so what they’ve done here is effectively kick the can as far down the road as you can see.”

Signatures were already being collected for a Medicaid expansion initiative when the Supreme Court struck down the process. Dr. John Gaudet says supporters of that effort are frustrated they’ll have to keep waiting.

“It’s something that has been taken seriously in the past and should be again, and the legislators need to lead on this,” explained Gaudet. “I don’t think it’s taking power away from them. I think instead, what it’s doing is showing that they have their ears open to their constituents and to the voters of the state as a whole and are responding to their needs.”

We asked Mississippi College School of Law Professor Matt Steffey about what the constitution specifically calls for related to initiatives. Is it a right Mississippians are entitled to?

“I think we have to come to terms with that right exists in theory,” noted Steffey. “But in practice, we’re at the mercy of the legislature. The most important thing is not what the law says but who decides. And in this case, it was two years ago, the Mississippi Supreme Court, and at every moment since the legislature.”

Without a special session, it will be January before action will be taken on this.

Activists argue that the process was already a difficult one and don’t want to further complicate it moving forward.

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