Al Rojas fills out a ballot at Eudora Welty Library in Jackson during the Mississippi Senate runoff election Tuesday, November 27, 2018. Credit: Eric J. Shelton, Mississippi Today/ Report for America

A new Mississippi Today/Siena College poll shows Mississippi voters across the spectrum want their right to put issues directly on a statewide ballot restored.

The poll, conducted March 6-8, comes as lawmakers continue to argue mainly about how restrictive these rights should be compared to the Mississippi’s previous ballot initiative process, which the state Supreme Court struck down in a 2021 ruling on medical marijuana.

The poll showed 72% favor reinstating ballot initiative, with 12% opposed and 16% either don’t know or have no opinion. Restoring the right garnered a large majority among Democrats, Republicans, independents and across all demographic, geographic and income lines. Among the wealthiest voters making $100,000-plus a year, support was at 83%.

Editor’s note: Poll methodology and crosstabs can be found at the bottom of this story. Click here to read more about our partnership with Siena College Research Institute.

Many Mississippians were angry when the state’s high court stripped voters of this right in 2021. This was in a ruling on a medical marijuana initiative voters had overwhelmingly passed, taking matters in hand after lawmakers had dallied for years on the issue. Legislative leaders were quick at the time with vows they would restore this right to voters, fix the legal glitches that prompted the Supreme Court to rule it invalid.

READ MORE: Is ballot initiative a ‘take your picture off the wall’ issue for lawmakers?

But lawmakers could not reach agreement last year on a measure to restore the right, and an effort this year faces an uncertain future as the 2023 legislative session enters its final weeks. The House and Senate have differing versions of the legislation, but both are more restrictive than the process struck down in 2021.

The Senate version would require the signatures of at least 240,000 registered voters to place an issue on a statewide ballot. The House version would require about 106,000, nearer the previous threshold required.

The new poll asked respondents who supported restoration of the ballot initiative whether they supported the higher signature or lower signature threshold. Among respondents, 65% said they wanted the lower threshold of about 106,000 signatures compared to just 26% support for the new proposal of 240,000 signatures.

READ MORE: Bill restoring ballot initiative remains alive, though some say it ‘stifles’ Mississippi voters

Opponents of the larger threshold of signatures say that would mean only well-funded, organized interest groups could realistically get a measure on a ballot, not grassroots groups of Mississippians.

Under both proposals, lawmakers by a simple majority vote can change or repeal an initiative approved by voters. The House version would prohibit abortion issues being placed on ballots by citizens.

Under the old process, initiatives passed by voters were enshrined in the state constitution — requiring another statewide vote for changes or repeal. Under both versions now being considered by lawmakers, voters would only be allowed to pass state laws, not constitutional provisions.

Supporters of ballot initiative say voters need a safety valve — a way to bypass the elected Legislature on issues of great importance. Opponents say the process can lead to “mob rules” and democracy should be tempered through legislative representation, protective of minority rights and checked by the judicial and executive branches.

Failure by lawmakers again this year to reinstate the initiative right, or passage of a process voters believe is too restrictive, would likely be an issue in this year’s statewide elections. Both main candidates for governor, incumbent Republican Tate Reeves and Democratic challenger Brandon Presley, said they support restoring the right to voters.

Siena has been rated as one of the top pollsters in the nation by the FiveThirtyEight Blog, which analyzes pollster data. The poll, conducted on March 6-8 of 764 registered voters, has a margin of error of 4.6%, meaning the results could vary by that margin.

The respondents had a racial breakdown of 57% white voters and 35% African American voters. It also included 35% Republicans, 33% Democrats and 31% independent and other parties. The poll was conducted via cell phones, landlines and “from a proprietary online panel of Mississippians.”

Click here for complete methodology and crosstabs relevant to this story.

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Geoff Pender serves as senior political reporter, working closely with Mississippi Today leadership on editorial strategy and investigations. Pender brings 30 years of political and government reporting experience to Mississippi Today. He was political and investigative editor at the Clarion Ledger, where he also penned a popular political column. He previously served as an investigative reporter and political editor at the Sun Herald, where he was a member of the Pulitzer Prize-winning team for Hurricane Katrina coverage. Originally from Florence, Mississippi, Pender is a journalism graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi and has received numerous awards throughout his career for reporting, columns and freedom of information efforts.