Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Sid Salter: Restoration of Initiative Process Should be on Voter's Agenda in 2023

 Statewide elections will be on the ballot later this year for all state eight statewide executive branch offices, all state district offices and for all 174 posts in the Mississippi Legislature in addition to county offices and county district offices in all 82 Mississippi counties including district and county attorneys.

What won’t be on the ballot this year – or in the years to come until the Mississippi Legislature takes action to correct flaws in the state’s existing “direct democracy” statute – will be voter-driven ballot initiatives.


But make no mistake, during the last courthouse-to-statehouse round of elections in 2019, Mississippi voters had a legal vehicle to put issues on a statewide referendum ballot that no longer exists. Why? It’s a long political story.


In the 2020 elections, Mississippi voters approved a voter initiative authorizing a medical marijuana program outlined in Initiative 65 over the express objections of the majority of legislative leaders. Mississippi voters gave Initiative 65 their 73.7% approval while giving the legislative alternative Initiative 65A only 26.3% of the vote.

The pro-medical marijuana initiative outpolled Republican incumbent President Donald Trump by some 20 percentage points with state voters — even outpolling the state’s 72.98% decision to change the state flag.

But the results of that referendum were annulled by the Mississippi Supreme Court. The state’s High Court ruled that the state’s 1992 ballot initiative process was flawed because the Legislature had spent several years without addressing the impact of Mississippi’s loss of a congressional district in 2001 on the constitutional provision governing that process.

The court ruled that the state’s initiative process was broken and that because Initiative 65 was put in motion through that flawed process and procedures, the medical marijuana initiative could not stand despite overwhelming voter support.

In 2022, the Legislature and Miss. Gov. Tate Reeves essentially negotiated a medical marijuana statute that was smaller and tighter in scope than the ballot initiative, but that at least got the issue off-center for many patients who believed they needed the drug.

There has existed a sort of iron triangle between the voters, the Mississippi Legislature, and the state Supreme Court for more than a century on the issue of ballot initiatives. The voters have struggled to hold on to their ability to bypass the Legislature in changing public policy in the state.


Why? Because the Legislature designed the former initiative process in Mississippi to be difficult for those who wish to circumvent lawmakers and get into the business of directly writing or changing laws for themselves. The state’s high court has vacillated over the years on their interpretations of direct democracy in the state.


Since 1993, there have been 66 instances where various Mississippi citizens or groups have attempted to utilize the state’s initiative process. Some 52 of those attempts simply expired for lack of certified signatures or other procedural deficiencies.


In the fallout from the Supreme Court’s decision to throw out the political result of Initiative 65, it became clear that many lawmakers were prepared to shift the ballot initiative process away from constitutional changes as allowed by the 1991 initiative process to a process that will enable statutory changes only.


But even if lawmakers do what’s necessary to enable statutory ballot initiatives, state voters will have far less power than they had before. There is a fundamental difference between being able to change the state’s constitution and changing a statute.


Some 26 states have the right to ballot initiative or referendum processes, excluding most Southern states except Florida. If Mississippi can reclaim the right of ballot initiative, even if for statutes only, it will represent a victory of sorts compared to most of our neighboring states.


There is a legislative deadline for action this week to change the state’s ballot initiative process. Failure to restore – or at least partially restore – those rights to Mississippi voters will likely result in a lot of uncomfortable questions from voters to incumbents on the campaign trail.


Clearly, there is an appetite for “citizen intervention” among state voters. Just as clearly, there is also concern among those in political power about a full restoration of the 1991 Mississippi initiative process. Those concerns link back to Initiatives 42 and 65 – and extend forward to what state voters would do with a Medicaid expansion referendum. 

Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at

Kingfish correction: Mr. Salter's claim of 74% approval is incorrect. 61% of the electorate voted for either Initiative 65 or Initiative 65A.  That is a strong majority but not a tidal wave either.  Initiative 65 received 57% in the election between the two initiatives.  Check the Secretary of State's certified election results.  


Anonymous said...

Mississippi is run by the Baptist church and it shows .....
God help us !

Anonymous said...

I'd support passing voter referendum to recall municipal office holders.

Krusatyr said...

8:10 am
Poser Pastor Pickett of the Pocket Picker Pulpit for Pigressive Politics, is a Perfidious Preacher pimp-partner to Jackson's maladroit Marxist Mayor.

Anonymous said...

Anybody can fiddle with statistics, Kingfish. Wasn't it 74% of the 61%?

Question: Salter mentioned the number of states that DO have the initiative process. How many of them have the process that DOES alter the constitution?

Comment: We all know (or should realize) one goal of the legislature, regardless of what they will tell you on camera, is to limit the voice of the people. One way to do that is to require a number of signatures that is out of reach from the get-go. If we had a similar rule for electing legislators, not a damned one of them would be sitting in a padded chair playing solitaire on the computer.

Anonymous said...

I think Salter is wrong about one thing...'Circumvent' in the context of his article is used disparagingly, punitively. I don't believe the initiative process is 'an attempt to circumvent the legislature'. I think it's simply an avenue for the people to push things to the ballot box that have either not been taken up or have stalled or have been can-kicked.

Meanwhile: As it stands today, even if the current session does move this forward to the November ballot, the earliest an initiative can be enacted is year 2025, correct? And we have Gunn and Hoseman's sheeple to thank for that.

Anonymous said...

medical marijuana a/k/a marijuana

Anonymous said...

I don’t waste time often, but when I do, I do it by reading Sid Salter pieces.

Going to the doctor later today, me, to get me one of them weed perscriptions. Got a hangnail ‘bout to kill me.

Anonymous said...

From the beginning,the " initiative" was altered as to be nearly impossible.
Advances in technology made it "doable".
That any legislature would be afraid of the voters actually engaged in governing themselves is terrifying.
We might actually discover how lazy and incompetent most of the legislature is.
People doing an initiative have to actually understand how government works. And the legislature reacts to change the "mechanics" so it won't work...except to serve their interests.

Anonymous said...

To everyone - "always with the negative comments".

Anonymous said...

The people followed the process to get the issue on the ballot. The politicians on the right freaked out when they realized the results so they changed the rules. Nothing slimier than politicians fighting against the people they “represent”.

Anonymous said...

9:46 - Hate to burst your water-pipe bubble, but you don't simply slide by the clinic and pick up 'one of them weed perscriptions'. They's quite a laborious process which you probly ain't got sense enough to negotiate. Meanwhile - Stay with Schaefer Lite.

Anonymous said...

The problem is that if you have enough money, you can hire a firm to get enough signatures to put your initiative on the ballot. And if you have enough additional money, you can hire a firm to do enough marketing to go your initiative to pass. Note that ghe marketing can be as deceptive as you need it to be.
In 1992, Initiative may have been a good idea. Now, it opens up our constitution to manipulation by out-of-state (or in-state) special interest groups.

Anonymous said...

Yes, great point 5:03. Thank goodness our constitution and laws are not currently open to manipulation by out-of-state (or in-state) special interest groups. Very valid point, very smart.

Oh, and see you at Koestler! Would you believe I just happened to find a real nice bottle of Pappy laying in the parking lot when I left the Capitol today? I'm guessing you dropped it. I'll be sure to bring it with me to give back to you when I see you tonight!

- Chad Salesbro, Eagle Strategic Strategery Associates

Conspiracy Conspiracy I Say said...

When photo I.D. initiative took place I remember hundreds of people going door to door all over the state for months and hand carrying the petitions to Republican headquarters in Jackson for tabulation.

Are you suggesting that process would be replaced by some out of state computerized booger bear conspiracy? Is that what Gunn and Hozer are afraid of?

What if WLBT cameras pan the chamber and realize all those men and women sitting there in those gold chairs are actually cardboard cutouts and only two or three people are making our laws?

Anonymous said...

I've asked several legislators what their position is on the initiative and referendum process, and, to a man, each has said, "We're lookin' at it". None will dare say, "We can't let you people have a voice in government".

Ask yours and see what you get in response. It's a cop out for them to say the only reason nothing was passed last year was due to a standstill over the number of signatures required. And if that WAS the reason, there you go again with not wanting the people to have a voice.

Anonymous said...

Ask Representative Phreddie Shanks for an honest opinion about this stalemate. He cruises this blog but will never post using his own name. He marches to two drumbeats: That of Gunn and that of the Niknar Breakfast Roundtable.

He won't have an opinion until that group tells him what it is.

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