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SPLC Action Fund Poll: Mississippi voters want swift action to restore ballot initiative process struck down by state Supreme Court

A new poll released today by the SPLC Action Fund found overwhelming bipartisan support among Mississippi voters for the governor and state Legislature to restore the ballot initiative process following a decision earlier this year by the state Supreme Court that invalidated it.

According to the statewide poll of voters, conducted by Tulchin Research, 79% of Mississippi voters want the ballot initiative law fixed as soon as possible.      

The poll also found that 82% of voters want to have a ballot initiative process in the state and 76% want Gov. Tate Reeves to call a special election to pass a new law by the end of summer.

“The message of today’s polling couldn’t be clearer: Mississippians across race, party, ideology and gender support the continued existence of the ballot initiative process in the state,” said Brandon Jones, Mississippi policy director for the SPLC Action Fund. “The polling also presents an opportunity or danger for elected officials: Mississippians clearly expressed they would be more likely to support the reelection of officials who speedily reinstated the process and more likely to vote against politicians who did not support a fix.”

The SPLC Action Fund advances the work of the Southern Poverty Law Center by providing greater flexibility to engage in legislative battles at every level of government and to support critical ballot initiatives like the one in Mississippi.

In a 6-3 decision in May, the Mississippi Supreme Court struck down a medical marijuana initiative that voters approved in November 2020, and, in the process, eviscerated the state’s entire ballot initiative process on a technicality. 

When enacted in 1992, the process required that a certain number of signatures be gathered from each of the five congressional districts for a proposal to be put on the ballot. The state lost a congressional seat in 2000, and ballot initiatives proposed and passed since then relied on congressional districts as they existed in the 1990s. The court ruled that the process has been voided since 2000 because there are only four districts now. 

“Not every issue facing Mississippi can be solved at the statehouse; the ballot initiative gives Mississippians an insurance policy,” Jones said. “If a Mississippian can mobilize support, they can put an issue before voters to approve policy that improves health care, protects private property or increases access to the ballot box.”

The poll also found that:

  • Voters reject the state Supreme Court’s interference in the ballot initiative process. Nearly three-quarters (73%) oppose permitting the Supreme Court to “overturn ballot initiatives voters have already approved.” This opposition includes majorities of Democrats (76%), Republicans (71%) and independents (73%).
  • Voters oppose the court’s decision to overturn the medical marijuana initiative. Nearly seven in 10 voters (68%) say they oppose the decision to overturn the initiative on a legal technicality; the initiative was approved by voters with overwhelming support (73%-27%) in 2020. Opposition to the court decision crosses party lines and includes solid majorities of Democrats (75%), Republicans (61%) and independents (69%).
  • The governor faces political peril. Voters want Reeves to call a special session immediately to resolve the ballot measure question. Specifically, more than three-quarters of voters (76%) believe he should call a special session this summer to update the law and restore the ballot initiative process in time for the next statewide elections in 2023. Support for a special session includes significant majorities of Democrats (77%), Republicans (73%) and independents (75%). The poll found that just 48% of voters have a favorable opinion of Reeves, while 46% hold an unfavorable opinion; 57% said they are less likely to support the governor’s reelection if he doesn’t take swift action.

Photo at top: A voter casts her ballot in a polling place at Highland Colony Baptist Church in Ridgeland, Mississippi, on Nov. 27, 2018. (Credit: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)