Update: Ballotpedia's overview of developments of Mississippi ballot measures

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June 9, 2011

Mississippi

By Al Ortiz

JACKSON, Mississippi: During the first half of the year, the 2011 ballot measure count remained relatively quiet. Only 16 ballot measures are certified in four states. The exception to this statement would be the state of Mississippi. In the Magnolia State, two of the three certified ballot questions are under litigation to strike them from the ballot. Opponents and supporters of all three have been voicing their strong opinions, and donations have been piling up with more still to come.

With so many developments concerning three ballot proposals with three extremely different political topics, Ballotpedia gives you a quick overview of exactly what is brewing like sweet southern tea down in Mississippi:

Voter Identification Initiative

This citizens' initiative, sponsored by Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann and State Senator Joey Fillingane after the Mississippi State Senate failed to take action on the proposal, would require Voter ID at the polls in the state.

Unlike the other two measures currently on the 2011 ballot, this measure is not under litigation. This does not mean that opponents and supporters are shying away from giving their opinions.

Fillingane argued: "There's still voter fraud going on in 2011 now and that ought not to be. I think we're one of only seven states that doesn't have some kind of photo i.d. requirement so we're way behind the eight ball on this."

Rep. Ed Blackmon said of the measure: "I think it's counter-productive" and compares it to a 2001 vote to keep the state flag which depicts the Confederate Battle Flag. Sen. David Jordan agrees, stating, "I still think it is a barrier that is going to hurt poor people who struggled to get the right to vote."

No opponents have donated towards the campaign against the measure, which cannot be said for supporters, who have reported a total of $16,875.

Personhood Initiative

The battle happening now with this measure has been taken to the Mississippi Supreme Court, where the American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood argue that the proposal would change the Mississippi Constitution's Bill of Rights, which is not allowed to be altered by citizen's initiative. However, supporters claim that it wouldn't change it, but would only include “unborn” in the definition of “Person” in the Bill of Rights. The proposal would ultimately declare in the constitution that life begins at "the moment of fertilization."

According to Personhood Mississippi's Les Riley, the sponsor of the amendment, pertaining to the legal challenge: "This is clearly a preposterous lawsuit, intended to interfere with Mississippi citizens’ right to vote, and to protect Planned Parenthood’s abortion cash cow. Planned Parenthood and the ACLU are seeking to protect Planned Parenthood’s one billion dollar a year profit, while Mississippi voters are seeking to protect innocent life. We intend to fight this suit, defending our rights as Mississippi voters and the most basic right of preborn children, the right to life."

The Mississippi Supreme Court was expected to hear arguments from Liberty Counsel soon, who will defend Personhood Mississippi and Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann.

Previously, on October 26, 2010, a Hinds County judge cleared the measure for the 2011 ballot. Judge Malcolm Harrison ruled that the initiative should appear on the ballot because supporters collected the required signatures and the constitution recognizes the right of citizens to change the state constitution. During late April 2011, the ACLU and Planned Parenthood filed the appeal with the Mississippi Supreme Court.

Total donations for the campaign in favor of the measure, as of May 2011, is $40,012.83. No donations were reported by the campaign against the measure during that time.

Eminent Domain Initiative

It was reported on June 5, 2011 that a lawsuit was filed in Hinds County Circuit Court challenging this ballot measure, which is primarily supported by the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation. The lawsuit was filed against the Mississippi Secretary of State's office by Leland Speed, a Mississippi businessman who is the leader of the Mississippi Development Authority.

However, Speed stated that he filed the lawsuit as a private citizen. According to Speed: “This initiative will hurt opportunities for thousands of Mississippians for better jobs and for better lives."[1]

If approved by voters, the amendment would prohibit state and local government from taking private property by eminent domain and then conveying it to other persons/businesses for a period of 10 years. However, the measure allows for an exemption for levee facilities, roads, bridges, ports, airports, common carriers, drainage facilities and utilities. According to reports, the proposed amendment would not apply to public nuisances, structures unfit for human habitation or abandoned property.

Specifically, the ongoing lawsuit challenges that the measure is unconstitutional, as Speed argues that it attempts to amend the state's Bill of Rights, which he says cannot be changed by initiative, an argument being presented in the lawsuit currently happening with the above mentioned personhood initiative.

A preliminary hearing is scheduled for July 25, 2011.[2]

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