Proposed amendment would return initiative and referendum in Mississippi

Welcome to the Wednesday, January 31, Brew. 

By: Mercedes Yanora

Here’s what’s in store for you as you start your day:

  1. Proposed amendment would return initiative and referendum in Mississippi
  2. Clayton Harris III and Eileen O’Neill Burke are running in the Democratic primary for Cook County state’s attorney
  3. 105 candidates filed for congressional and statewide offices last week

Proposed amendment would return initiative and referendum in Mississippi

On Jan. 24, the Mississippi House of Representatives passed a proposed constitutional amendment, House Concurrent Resolution 11, that would create a new state initiative and referendum process. The amendment passed 80-39, with 78 Republicans voting “Yes” and one voting “No.” Thirty-eight Democrats voted “No” and one voted “Yes.” The one independent representative voted “Yes.” 

If the Senate approves it, the proposal will appear on the November 2024 ballot. In Mississippi, for a legislatively referred constitutional amendment to be certified for the ballot, two-thirds vote of those present in each chamber, provided the vote is a majority of all members, is required.

In 2021, the Mississippi Supreme Court invalidated Mississippi’s initiative process, which was first created in 1992. Under the previous process, only initiatives amending the state constitution were allowed, and initiatives required signatures equal to 12% of the total votes cast in the last gubernatorial election.

Here’s what the new initiative and referendum process would look like.

Voters could repeal legislation via veto referendums and initiate state laws (but could not initiate constitutional amendments) by circulating petitions for up to 12 months and gathering signatures equal to 8% of the total number of qualified electors in the state as of the last gubernatorial election. This percentage is estimated to be around 152,000 signatures based on an estimated 1.92 million active voters. 

Certain types of initiatives would be prohibited, including abortion, the Mississippi Public Employees’ Retirement System, local laws, or laws appropriating funds from the State Treasury.

The Mississippi secretary of state would be responsible for validating petition signatures. If certified, the proposed initiative would then be submitted to the Mississippi Legislature, which could, by a simple majority vote, adopt the proposal or an amended version.

If the initiative is adopted, amended, or rejected by the state legislature, or if the legislature takes no action on the proposal within four months, the initiative (and any alternative proposed by the legislature) would be placed on the next statewide general election ballot. 

A maximum of three initiatives could appear on the ballot. The first three initiatives submitted to the secretary of state with sufficient signatures would qualify. To be approved, an initiative or legislative alternative would need to receive a majority of votes cast on the question and no less than 40% of the total votes cast in the election.

This isn’t the first time Mississippi legislators proposed a new initiative process. The Senate passed a constitutional amendment to re-establish an initiative process during the 2023 legislative session. The House amended and returned it to the Senate. However, the constitutional amendment was not referred to voters because the Senate and House could not agree on a final proposal.  

Other states have successfully changed their initiative and referendum rules in recent years, including Arkansas, Arizona, and Wyoming. In 2023, the Arkansas Legislature increased the state’s distribution requirement for ballot initiative signatures from 15 of 75 counties to 50 of 75 counties. In 2022 and 2021, respectively, Arizona voters approved Proposition 129, which required citizen initiatives to have a single subject, while Wyoming legislators passed a bill that changed the filing fees for an initiative or referendum from $500 to $1,000.  

Under Mississippi’s recently invalidated initiative process, seven initiated constitutional amendments made the ballot. Voters approved three, with the state supreme court invalidating one. Voters rejected four of the measures.

Keep reading

Clayton Harris III and Eileen O’Neill Burke are running in the Democratic primary for Cook County state’s attorney 

Throughout the year, we’ll bring you coverage of the most compelling primaries — the battleground elections we expect to have a meaningful effect on the balance of power in governments or to be particularly competitive. 

Earlier this week, we previewed the March 5 Democratic primary for Harris County district attorney. You can catch our previous coverage of other battleground races here.

Today, we’re looking at the Democratic primary for Cook County state’s attorney. Clayton Harris III and Eileen O’Neill Burke are running in the primary on March 19.

Incumbent Kim Foxx (D) is not seeking re-election. Foxx was first elected in 2016. Both Harris and O’Neill Burke said they will build on Foxx’s policies while improving the relationship between prosecutors and police.

Harris is a former prosecutor and state government staff manager who teaches state and local government policy, including policing, at the University of Chicago. Harris is running on his experience, saying he will be “the bridge, the evolution of what has been going on and we’re going to move forward to ensure that our communities feel safe.” Harris also said he will add a division to the special prosecutors unit that will focus on firearms, carjackings, and retail theft.

O’Neill Burke is a former prosecutor, defense attorney, and judge. O’Neill Burke said she has more courtroom experience and more experience in mentorship owing to her time running training programs for new judges. O’Neill Burke said she is running because of crime rates: “make no mistake about it, the economic viability of Chicago is on the ballot this year.” O’Neill Burke also said she will end Foxx’s policy of prohibiting prosecution of retail theft less than $1,000.

The winner of the primary will advance to the general election against Bob Fioretti (R) and Andrew Charles Kopinski (L). Democrats have won every election for Cook County state’s attorney since 1996. Foxx won the 2016 election 72%-28% and the 2020 election 54%-39%.

Keep reading 

105 candidates filed for congressional and statewide offices last week

One hundred five people declared their candidacies for congressional or statewide offices in the past week, 20 more than last week. All of these candidates declared before their state’s official filing deadline.

Fifty-seven of those candidates are Democratic, while 45 are Republican. Three are minor-party candidates or running in nonpartisan races.

Forty-eight candidates are running for Congress, 53 for state legislatures, two for governorships, and two for lower state executive offices. 

Since the beginning of the year, we have identified 251 declared candidates for congressional and statewide offices. At this time in 2022, we had identified 97 declared candidates for 2022, 2023, and 2024 races.

An official candidate is someone who registers with a federal or state campaign finance agency before the candidate filing deadline or appears on candidate lists released by government election agencies. A declared candidate is someone who has not completed the steps to become an official candidate but who might have done one or more of the following:

  1. Appeared in candidate forums or debates
  2. Published a campaign website
  3. Published campaign social media pages
  4. Advertised online, on television, or through print
  5. Issued press releases
  6. Interviewed with media publications

Keep reading