The City of Madison and Madison Mayor Mary Hawkins Butler have filed an emergency petition before the Mississippi Supreme Court seeking a declaration that Initiative 65 was unconstitutionally brought to the voters.
At issue is the number of signatures collected in the five designated congressional districts required by law. The filers question whether the Secretary of State’s office improperly certified the Initiative.
Current Lt. Governor Delbert Hosemann was Secretary of State at the time Initiative 65 was certified to be on the ballot. The announcement was made on January 8, 2020 – one day before the swearing in of the new terms of office for Hosemann and now Secretary of State Michael Watson.
Mississippi Constitution Article 15, Section 273 states:
“An initiative to amend the Constitution may be proposed by a petition signed over a twelve-month period by qualified electors equal in number to at least twelve percent (12%) of the votes for all candidates for Governor in the last gubernatorial election. The signatures of the qualified electors from any congressional district shall not exceed one-fifth ( 1/5 ) of the total number of signatures required to qualify an initiative petition for placement upon the ballot. If an initiative petition contains signatures from a single congressional district which exceed one-fifth ( 1/5 ) of the total number of required signatures, the excess number of signatures from that congressional district shall not be considered by the Secretary of State in determining whether the petition qualifies for placement on the ballot.”
Mississippi no longer has five congressional districts. Since the 2000 Census, the state now has four districts.
As such, according to the petition, Madison and its Mayor are claiming that it is a “mathematical certainty that the number of signatures submitted in support of Initiative Measure No. 65 from at least one of the four congressional districts exceeds 1/5 of the total number required.”
The filers state that the Mississippi Legislature is aware of “mathematical impossibility,” with resolutions filed over the years to correct the issue, yet all have died and Section 273 remains unchanged.
“The constitutional process for amending our constitution has not been followed and the public has been misled about the content of the initiative,” the Mayor said in a release. “Initiative 65 gives marijuana providers greater rights than any other lawful business. Such a significant change must be lawfully adopted.”
The City is not opposed to a well-regulated medical marijuana program, their release states, but the City and the Mayor have concerns about how the constitutional amendment was brought to the voters.
The emergency petition asks if the Mississippi Secretary of State’s office violated the constitution by filing the initiative based on the signature percentages needed from the five congressional districts. The filers are seeking a review of the sufficiency of Initiative 65, a declaration that Initiative 65 is properly enacted under the amendment process, and a prohibition of the Secretary of State from declaring a vote on Initiative 65.
UPDATE: 11:21am – 10/27/2020
Mississippians for Compassionate Care issued a release after news of this emergency petition broke. Jamie Grantham speaking on behalf of the group that is backing Initiative 65 said, in part:
“The Secretary of State properly qualified Initiative 65 under the same constitutional procedures used for every other successful voter initiative. The lawsuit from the City of Madison is meritless. This is simply a last-ditch effort by political and bureaucratic opponents to deny relief to patients with 22 specific debilitating medical conditions.”
The release stated that in placing Initiative 65 on the ballot, the Secretary of State followed a 2009 opinion of the Mississippi Attorney General which stated, “The Secretary of State should require that 20% of the signatures of an initiative petition be from each of the “old” five congressional districts as they existed immediately prior to the adoption of the four current congressional districts.”
UPDATE: 11:31am – 10/27/2020
The Mississippi Supreme Court has ordered Secretary of State Michael Watson to respond to the emergency petition filed by the City of Madison over Initiative 65 by 5pm tomorrow (Wednesday, October 28, 2020).
Former Attorney General Jim Hood issued an opinion regarding Voter Initiative Law in January 2009, as referenced by Mississippians for Compassionate Care. Hood opines to then-Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann:
“It is likewise our opinion that the geographic distribution requirement of Section 273 requires that not more than 20% of the total required number of initiative petition signatures must come from the last five-district congressional district plan which was is effect prior to the adoption of the current four-district plan. It would be mathematically impossible to satisfy the requirements of Section 273 using just four districts. We note that at least one initiative sponsor has stated their intention to gather sufficient signatures to satisfy the 20%/five-district threshold as well as the 25%/four-district threshold.”
UPDATE – October 28, 2:55 p.m.
The Mississippi State Supreme Court has issued a decision to extend the allowed time for Secretary of State Michael Watson to respond to the petition filed. The response is not longer required until November 6, 2020. This is three days after the general election takes place.