SID SALTER: Initiatives may bring unintended consequences, too

By Sid Salter

STARKVILLE – For months, political operatives and journalists alike thought the state’s November general election ballot would be advantageous for conservatives in general and the Mississippi GOP in particular, but the three ballot initiatives that confront state voters have proven to be more complex than that.
Republicans worked hard for two decades to get the voter ID issue on the ballot for the general election. The initiative would require voters to submit a photo ID in order to vote in a manner that already has survived U.S. Supreme Court scrutiny in 2008 in an appeal from a similar law in Indiana.
Initiative No. 27, the voter ID amendment, would implement virtually the mirror image of the Indiana law in Mississippi. The ballot wording is straightforward: “Should the Mississippi Constitution be amended to require a person to submit government issued photo identification in order to vote?” Voter ID will pass by a substantial margin, but it is likewise motivating Democrats to turn out to vote against it as well as it turns out GOP voters who favor it.
Initiative No. 26, the so-called “personhood” initiative redefines the word “person” in the state constitution to include fertilized human eggs and undeveloped embryos. The ballot wording is as follows: “Should the term ‘person’ be defined to include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning or the equivalent thereof?” Voters will be asked to weigh in with a “yes” or “no” vote.
As with most issues related to abortion, conservatives believed there would be virtually uncontested passage of the “personhood” amendment in Mississippi. But as evidenced by Gov. Haley Barbour’s publicly expressed misgivings about the possible unintended policy consequences of the personhood amendment, it appears the amendment has had unintended political consequences as well.
Significant opposition to the amendment appears to have developed. While most observers look for the amendment to pass, it’s clear that Initiative 26 opposition votes may well impact some key legislative races in favor of Democrats. Conservative voters who oppose abortion are expressing doubt about the wording of the proposed amendment. Privately, some Democratic legislators are praising the initiative as providing a “get out the vote” issue for liberal voters.
Barbour’s misgivings (which preceded his “yes” vote on the issue, he said) were likely not misplaced. Adoption of the “personhood” initiative will almost certainly set off a constitutional challenge because of the Roe v. Wade decision, but proponents point to that decision as the genesis of the “personhood” movement.
The third ballot initiative in Mississippi on the November general election ballot is Initiative No. 31, the eminent domain initiative. The ballot wording is: “Should government be prohibited from taking private property by eminent domain and then transferring it to other persons?” Again, voters will be asked to weigh in with a “yes” or “no” vote.
Barbour opposes this initiative, but it will linger as one issue in which he was out of sync with the majority of Mississippi voters who favor putting a belt and suspenders – as the late Acadian comic Justin Wilson used to say – on the state’s eminent domain laws.
Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at (662) 325-2506 or ssalter@library.msstate.edu.