Protesters at the We are the 74 Rally held outside the Supreme Court building Tuesday in Jackson. Credit: Vickie D. King/Mississippi Today

An overwhelming 82% of Mississippians believe there should be two ways to enact laws in the state – through the Legislature and through a citizen-sponsored ballot initiative process, according to a poll commissioned by the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Action Fund.

The poll also found that there could be political consequences for Gov. Tate Reeves, who according to the poll already has a slim 48% to 46% approval rate, and for legislators if they do not take steps to revive the initiative process that was struck down by the Mississippi Supreme Court.

“The data show he (Reeves) is not in a position of strength on this issue,” said Ben Tulchin, president of Tulchin Research, which conducted the poll for the SPLC Action Fund. “If he wants to stay in office, he should heed these numbers and listen to the will of the people.”

The only role the governor can play in reviving the initiative process would be to call a special session. He would not sign a proposal passed by the Legislature to revive the process — instead, it would go to voters for their approval.

The poll found by a 76% to 17% margin, voters favor Reeves calling a special session before the summer is up to give legislators the opportunity to reinstate the initiative process and to pass a medical marijuana law. The poll did not address the costs of a special session or other costs that would be associated with trying to revive he ballot initiative as quickly as possible.

In May, the state Supreme Court by a 6-3 margin struck down a medical marijuana initiative approved by voters in November and in doing so also struck down the entire initiative process.

SLPC released results of the poll Thursday during a Zoom conference with members of the media. The poll was conducted June 12-17 by Tulchin Research, a national polling company, of 600 Mississippian via landline and cell phones. Those polls were designed to reflect the normal Mississippi electorate – about one-third African American and overwhelmingly Republican. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4%.

Brandon Jones, policy director for the SLPC Action Fund, said the demographics and the party identification of those polls made little difference since support for restoring the initiative process was widespread — equally as strong among Republicans and Democrats and even stronger among independents.

“We rarely get opportunities to release data so overwhelmingly, so uniformly bipartisan and so overwhelming in its response,” Tulchin said. He said seldom do pollsters find such strong bipartisan agreement in today’s political environment.

According to the poll,

  • By a 79% to 12% margin, voters support the Legislature fixing the ballot initiative process as soon as possible.
  • By a 73% to 19% margin, voters oppose the Supreme Court decision.
  • By a 65% to 15% margin, voters would be less likely to vote for legislators who do not revive the ballot initiative.
  • By a 57% to 17% margin, voters would be less likely to vote for Reeves if he does not call a special session.

House Speaker Philip Gunn has asked Reeves to call a special session to fix the ballot initiative process. Reeves has said he would call a special session if legislators can reach agreement – particularly on medical marijuana.

The Court struck down medical marijuana and the ballot initiative process because the Constitution requires signatures to place an issue in the ballot be gathered equally from five congressional districts. The state lost a congressional district based on data from the 2000 Census and now has four.

Jones said the SLPC Action Fund is interested in restoring the ballot initiative process because the group was working on an initiative to expand Medicaid that was halted by the Supreme Court decision. In addition, the SLPC Action Fund has voiced support for early voting – another ballot initiative that was stopped by the Court ruling.

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Bobby Harrison, Mississippi Today’s senior capitol reporter, covers politics, government and the Mississippi State Legislature. He also writes a weekly news analysis which is co-published in newspapers statewide. A native of Laurel, Bobby joined our team June 2018 after working for the North Mississippi Daily Journal in Tupelo since 1984. He is president of the Mississippi Capitol Press Corps Association and works with the Mississippi State University Stennis Institute to organize press luncheons. Bobby has a bachelor's in American Studies from the University of Southern Mississippi and has received multiple awards from the Mississippi Press Association, including the Bill Minor Best Investigative/In-depth Reporting and Best Commentary Column.