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New organization pushes Legislature to restore ballot initiative

Leaders of a recently formed organization hope they can finally convince a new slate of state lawmakers to restore a process for Mississippians to bypass politicians at the Capitol and place initiatives on a statewide ballot for consideration. 

A bipartisan group of political and business leaders from across the state created Ballot Access Mississippi, or BAM, to provide an outlet for voters to advocate the state Legislature to reinstate the initiative.

“It’s one of those things that everybody is for, but it’s not the main focus of anyone right now,” said Spence Flatgard, the chairman of the organization. “We saw BAM as a way to be helpful.”

The Mississippi Constitution explicitly gives citizens the right to place measures on a statewide ballot for consideration. But the Mississippi Supreme Court in 2021 struck down the state’s initiative process because of a technicality over the number of the state’s congressional districts. 

The leaders of the Capitol’s two legislative chambers recently told the reporters they support legislation to restore the initiative. 


House Speaker Jason White, R-West, told reporters last week that the House will likely vote on legislation early in the session to restore the initiative process.

“It will probably have a slightly higher signature threshold than what we had before the Supreme Court ruled,” White said. “It will probably also include that those initiatives go into statute and not in the Constitution.”

Similarly, Leah Smith, a spokesperson for Republican Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann, said in a statement that Senate leaders anticipate they will debate the initiative process with “more discussion around signature and other requirements.”

“The Lt. Governor has consistently said he supports an initiative process,” Smith said. 

The House and Senate, for the last two legislative sessions, failed to reach an agreement over how to restore the initiative process, with the main disagreement between the two chambers centering on how many signatures petitioners should be required to gather.

The prior process required organizers to gather around 106,190 signatures before the initiative could be placed on a ballot. After the court struck down the process, the House wanted a signature requirement similar to the old process, while the Senate wanted a higher requirement. 

This year, Flatgard thinks BAM can break through a potential impasse by advocating for the initiative earlier in the session and having the organization’s board members work directly with key legislative leaders. 

“We’re trying to tee it up early, and once it is teed up, we have people on the board who know House and Senate leaders and can help facilitate a resolution that restores the right at the end,” Flatgard said.

During the 30 years that the state had an initiative, only seven proposals made it to a statewide ballot: two initiatives for term limits, eminent domain, voter ID, a personhood amendment, medical marijuana and a measure forcing lawmakers to fund public education fully.

Of those seven, only eminent domain, voter ID and medical marijuana were approved by voters. The rest were rejected.


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