A pending decision by the Mississippi Supreme Court could end citizen efforts to put several issues on the statewide election ballot for voters to decide.
Efforts are ongoing to gather signatures for six initiatives that among other things allow people to vote on legalizing marijuana for recreational use and restoring the 1890s flag as the official banner of the state, complete with the Confederate battle emblem as part of its design.
But those two efforts and others could be stopped by the state’s highest court. The nine-member Supreme Court is currently considering a lawsuit filed by the city of Madison and Mayor Mary Hawkins Butler trying to prevent a medical marijuana initiative approved by voters in November 2020 from going into effect. The lawsuit maintains the language in the Constitution requiring the signatures to place an issue on the ballot be gathered from five congressional districts makes initiative efforts invalid since the state as of the 2000 Census has only four districts.
The court ruling potentially could make it impossible for the signature-gatherers to meet the mandates of the Constitution.
Other ongoing initiatives that could be impacted by the court ruling would:
- Limit the terms of appointed and elected officials in the state to two terms.
- Allow no-excuse, in-person early voting.
- Expand Medicaid to cover primarily the working poor.
- Replace the 1890s state flag, with its Confederate battle emblem, with the Hospitality Flag, formerly called the Stennis Flag.
The Legislature retired the 1890s flag in June, and voters selected a new state flag in November that includes a Magnolia and the phrase “In God We Trust.”
Even though the old flag has been removed, Kendra James, a spokesperson for the Secretary of State’s office, said the initiative to replace the old flag will be active until August. Initiative sponsors have one year to gather signatures once the process of agreeing to the language for the initiative is finalized.
An effort also continues to give voters an opportunity to vote on restoring the old flag. A recent news release from an organization called “Let Mississippi Vote” said 20,000 signatures had been gathered through April for the initiative that would give voters four options to choose from for a state flag.
The four options are the old flag, the new flag approved in November by voters, the Hospitality Flag, and the bicentennial banner.
Dan Carr, a Gulf Coast pastor and founder of Let Mississippi Vote, said the initiative sponsors have until Dec. 12 to gather the required number of signatures — about 106,000 total. To place the issue on the 2021 ballot, the required number of signatures would need to be gathered, verified and delivered to the Legislature 90 days before the start of the 2022 session in January. If the process is completed later in the year, it would be placed on the 2023 ballot.
“I don’t think we will be finished before November,” Carr conceded.
Carr and other initiative sponsors are hoping their efforts are not stopped by the Supreme Court.
If the Supreme Court does rule that the initiative process is invalid because of the requirement to gather signatures from five congressional districts that no longer exist, it most likely would take a two-thirds vote of the Legislature and then approval by voters in a general election to correct the language. That most likely means the initiative process could not be fixed before November 2022 if the Legislature voted in the 2022 session to correct the language.