EDITORIAL: Initiative signatures

Attorney General Jim Hood’s official opinion, denying use of electronically gathered signatures for a voter-initiated referendum on a constitutional amendment requiring state-issued photo voter identification in Mississippi, was the conservative and correct choice.
We agree with Hood’s opinion, and at the same time reiterate our support for a voter identification requirement, one much like a version also setting up early voting procedures defeated in the 2009 regular legislative session.
Supporters of the proposed amendment sought use of Internet technology as an obvious way to speed the process and reduce the labor-intense work of gathering signatures face-to-face.
Hood said Mississippi’s law anticipates only the use of signed, paper petitions.
Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, Mississippi’s chief elections officer, agrees with Hood’s reasoning.
It is plain that the people passed a conservative, strict I & R provision in 1992 to temper utility and add gravity to the act of amending the Constitution outside the legislative process.
Constitutions aren’t necessarily written and structured to be easily amended, and some issues, like a requirement for photo identification to vote, can be adequately handled in statute.
Intra-party political disagreements – among Republicans – apparently killed the voting law changes thought to be passable in the 2009 session – passable, at least, until GOP senators killed the measure in committee, which led ultimately to its defeat on a motion for a rules suspension.
Proponents of the voter identification amendment meantime have started hand-written signature gathering based on the requirements for I & R in the Mississippi Constitution.
The initiative and referendum process in Mississippi (first devised in response to the Progressive Movement of the early 20th century in 1914, struck, struck down by the Mississippi Supreme Court in 1922, and revived in 1992 by a statewide referendum) requires signatures of voters equaling 12 percent of the turnout in the last gubernatorial election – between 90,000 and 100,000 signatures.
It also requires proportionate geographic numbers of signatures from the five congressional districts at the time.
Passage by referendum requires votes equaling 40 percent of the votes cast in the last general election, a provision called a super-majority.
Mississippi’s two initiative-driven constitutional referendums were defeated – both dealing with term limits, suggesting that choosing the amendment route is less certain than might appear.
An informed electorate is the key to both passage and defeat. Neither side, if a referendum is finally approved, can make assumptions about how voters will respond, especially where the political passions and ideologies of a relative few might not be shared by larger, quieter portions of the electorate.

NEMS Daily Journal