Absentee ballot schedule needs speedy eminent domain resolution

Mississippi’s courts must move quickly to resolve a key state constitutional issue —whether it’s legal to limit eminent domain through a voter referendum.

Otherwise trouble is ahead for state elections officials who must meet deadlines for printing and distributing ballots on the property rights question.

The clock begins to wind down at 9 a.m. July 25 when Circuit Judge Winston Kidd begins to hear arguments in real estate investor Leland Speed’s challenge to a ballot initiative that asks voters whether the state through a constitutional amendment should outlaw the taking of private property for private enterprise. The suit seeks to nullify Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann’s approval of the ballot initiative and order to have it placed before voters.

Either way Kidd rules an appeal to the Mississippi Supreme Court is expected.

Should the high court reject Speed’s challenge, it must do so in time for Hosemann to put the referendum question on absentee ballots that go out in mid-September.

Work on those ballots would normally be wrapped up in early September, said Cory Wilson, a former chief of staff to Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann now in private practice in Jackson.

“Ideally, they’d have guidance from the courts by then (early September), he said.

Absentee balloting must begin 45 days ahead of the Nov. 8 general election, Wilson added.

Adding to the ballot preparation pressure is a challenge to a ballot initiative that would have the constitution establish that “personhood” begins at the moment of fertilization.

The Secretary of State’s Office is awaiting a ruling from the Mississippi Supreme Court on that initiative, according to spokeswoman Pamela Weaver.

Wilson said he expects the court will act promptly on each challenge. “The courts are pretty good at expediting things like this in accordance with their importance of the public. And there surely is a lot of public interest in resolving” these.

Hosemann, spokeswoman Weaver said, intends to put each issue on the ballot unless a court orders him not to.

He has until Sept. 14 to present a final ballot to county elections commissions around the state.

The Secretary of State’s Office took pains to ensure the process by which each initiative won its place on the ballot conformed to Mississippi law, Wilson said.

“I was there during the time all three of these initiatives that are set to be on the ballot came in. I will say that Secretary Hosemann left no stone unturned in terms of complying with the laws and making sure they (the ballot initiatives) complied with the statutes.”

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