Dog breeding, legalizing marijuana, farm animal confinement - in some states you never know what will show up as a ballot initiative. But then here in Mississippi there is an attempt (unlikely to succeed) to enshrine Colonel Reb as the mascot of the University of Mississippi in the state Constitution. Only twice before this year have citizen sponsored initiatives made it to ballot in Mississippi, both were term-limits defeated in 1995 and 1999.

The three initiatives facing Mississippi voters this November are not frivolous and show a serious civic people wresting with foundational values regarding life, liberty and property.

Initiative 26 seeks to define personhood in Mississippi at the moment of conception. Whether life begins at conception is scientifically and genetically easy to answer. It does. But does that life possesses rights and will we as a society recognize and protect those rights? This vote is a decision on whether Mississippi draws the line at conception.

Mississippians for Healthy Families, a group formed by leaders of Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union, opposes this initiative and reported raising $154,664 and retaining $83,089 cash-on-hand in their most recent campaign finance report. The only contribution from Mississippi to this group was an in-kind contribution from the Mississippi ACLU. Most of the money came from Planned Parenthood groups in a dozen other states.

Les Riley's organization Personhood Mississippi put this initiative on the ballot and in October reported spending $32,089 in 2011. The group Yes on 26 led by American Family Association President Tim Wildmon of Tupelo reported raising $539,024; spending $172,394; and maintaining $32,871 cash-on-hand this year.

Compared to personhood, a mechanism to ensure voter integrity - like Initiative 27 for photo voter-ID - sounds mundane. But the security of the voting process is foundational to democracy and liberty.

The Voting Rights Act is a bait and switch sham if we tell people their vote matters but allow someone to cancel that vote out. It is a civil rights hoodwink when someone once persecuted for attempting to vote proudly votes today, only to let some corrupt county boss negate them by having people vote multiple times or vote for the dead.

Some say voter ID is a solution in search of a problem with no evidence of fraud. Untrue. I interviewed a woman in Brookhaven who showed up to vote only to discover someone already voted in her name, and in the name of her deceased father. The Mississippi Republican Party caught a person in 2008 who voted, changed clothes, and attempted to vote again. While poll watching I witnessed a man when told the name he said was not on the book, point to an entirely different name to vote instead.

We have plenty of election fraud to pursue, like absentee ballot abuse. But voter ID is a basic, simple mechanism which will not interfere with legal voting and will stop some voter fraud. The state will provide identification without charge to a registered voter without ID. Voter ID ought to be approved.

The Mississippi Farm Bureau has championed the effort for Initiative 31 to restrict the state's ability to use eminent domain for private development and reports spending nearly $40,000 on the issue this year with over half-a-million dollars cash-on-hand in October. This initiative does not prohibit eminent domain use for "drainage and levee facilities, roads, bridges, ports, airports, common carriers, and utilities. The prohibition would not apply in certain situations, including public nuisance, structures unfit for human habitation, or abandoned property."

I am opposed to the government taking my private property (even if compensated) against my will and giving ownership of it to someone else for job creation. But I don't believe opponents of this initiative advocate that worst case scenario either. And that is a problem with initiatives.

Initiatives are direct representations of the will of the people bypassing the Legislature, but also forgoing debate, amendment and refinement. Some voters know without doubt how they will vote; others may face a political choice not unlike their legislators.

Politically, Mississippi is a pro-life state. If the Personhood Initiative fails the political power of the pro-life cause will be substantially weakened. If the voter-ID measure fails, there will be little appetite to fight for that measure in the Legislature. If the initiative restricting eminent domain fails, some government officials may feel emboldened to push the envelope of land taking without fear of political reprisal.

Unanswered questions may lead some voters not to make a choice. But initiatives not only require more votes for than against to pass, the votes for the initiative must constitute at least 40 percent of the total ballots cast during that election. Not voting for either way on an initiative almost counts as voting against it. Thus, confusion is as powerful as persuasion for initiative opponents; and initiative proponents bear the burden of making their case even when it comes to life, liberty and property.



Brian Perry is a partner in a public affairs firm. Contact him at reasonablyright@brianperry.ms or @CapstonePerry on Twitter.