Mississippi should revive process to put issues on ballot, Secretary of State Watson says

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JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi should revive a process that lets voters put initiatives on the statewide ballot, Secretary of State Michael Watson said Wednesday, although he hasn’t yet settled on the exact number of signatures people would need to gather.

Mississippi has been without initiatives since May 2021, when the state Supreme Court ruled the state’s process was invalid because it required people to gather signatures from out-of-date congressional districts.

Watson, a Republican seeking a second term, told The Associated Press in an interview that he thinks the signature threshold “should be a little bit higher” than the previous 106,200 — partly to dim the influence of outside groups.

“Is it a groundswell of support for an issue from Mississippians?” Watson said. “Or is it support for an issue from out-of-state entities that want to come in and push some idea that maybe not be pushed by Mississippians?”

Watson cited initiatives that seek to preserve abortion access in some states since the U.S. Supreme Court used a Mississippi case last year to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 ruling that established abortion rights nationwide.

Ty Pinkins, the Democrat challenging Watson in the Nov. 7 election, said last week that Watson and other Republicans “stripped away our ballot initiative process, completely eliminating our right to take issues directly to voters.”

“Republicans would rather restrict your right to vote and limit your voice in government than adopt the commonsense solutions we know the majority of Mississippians want to see implemented,” Pinkins said.

Earlier this year, a Republican committee chairman in the Mississippi Senate killed a plan to revive a ballot initiative process. That plan would have specifically prevented people from proposing any expansion of abortion access. Most abortions have been banned in Mississippi since shortly after Roe was overturned.

Sen. John Polk scuttled the plan because he said he wanted to increase the number of signatures to put issues on the ballot.

Watson is an attorney and served three terms in the Mississippi Senate before he won the open race for secretary of state in 2019.

Pinkins, also an attorney, joined the secretary of state’s race last week. He replaced the previous Democratic nominee Shuwaski Young, who dropped out because of a hypertensive crisis that limited his ability to campaign.

Watson had nearly $884,000 in his campaign fund in July. Pinkins filed papers Monday to organize a campaign committee, but he had not disclosed any finance information by Wednesday.

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Cover Photo: Mississippi Secretary of State Michael Watson speaks in his office in Jackson, Miss., on Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2023. Watson, a Republican, is seeking a second term as the state’s top elections official, and he faces Democrat Ty Pinkins in the Nov. 7, 2023, general election. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

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