AUTHOR: BOBBY

HED:Open primary initiative filed

By Bobby Harrison

Daily Journal Jackson Bureau

JACKSON - Voters could cast ballots for Republicans and Democrats in party primaries under a ballot initiative filed Wednesday with the secretary of state.

In party primaries now, people may vote for either Republican candidates or Democratic candidates - but not both.

For instance, a person cannot vote for a Republican for governor and a Democrat for sheriff in the party primary.

Under a ballot initiative filed Wednesday with Secretary of State Eric Clark, "party primary candidates would appear on the same ballot, allowing voters the opportunity to vote for the candidate of their choice regardless of party affiliation."

The ballot initiative is sponsored by Nick Walters of Ridgeland, an account executive who has worked on several campaigns of Republican candidates.

Other proposals

The ballot initiative also would:

- Move state and county elections to coincide with federal congressional elections. To accomplish that, candidates elected in 1999 would run again in 2002.

- Place more controls over the absentee voting process. Secretary of State Eric Clark will present proposals to the 1999 Legislature that also would tighten up the absentee voting process.

-Require identification to vote.

A ballot initiative requiring voter identification already is being circulated by Mike Retzer, chairman of the state Republican Party.

But Retzer's proposal does not deal with the other issues addressed in the Walters initiative.

Under Mississippi's initiative process, sponsors have one year to gather the signatures of at least 98,336 registered voters. If they're successful, the issue is placed on the election ballot. If it's approved, it becomes part of the Mississippi Constitution.

"Election reform is not normally a big issue," Walters admitted Wednesday. "But what we are hoping is to catch people after they vote in the party primary next year (when they could not cross party lines.) That is when they are so hacked off. We hope they will be ready to sign a petition" calling for an open primary.

Under Walters' open primary proposal, which is similar to the California system, all candidates (Republican and Democrat) would be on the same ballot in the primary.

But the top two vote-getters would not advance to the general election. Instead, the top Republican vote-getter and the top Democrat vote-getter would advance.

And in the primary, a candidate must gain a majority of the votes cast for all the candidates of the same party. If nobody obtains a majority of the votes cast for all candidates of a particular party, then the two top vote-getters of that party would face off in a runoff.

Cost savings

Walters estimated the open primary system would save Mississippi's 82 counties about $7 million every three years because there would not have to be two ballots - one for Democrats and one for Republicans.

Also on Wednesday, STOP Lawsuit Abuse filed its third ballot initiative in less than a week. The one filed Wednesday would abolish joint and several liability.

Joint and several liability occurs when someone sues two different parties at the same time. While one party might be more at blame for the lawsuit, under current law both parties could be required to pay equally.

Other initiatives filed recently by STOP Lawsuit Abuse would limit attorney fees in civil lawsuits and would require the losing side to pay attorney fees in civil lawsuits.

"We are 100 percent committed to see all three initiatives through," said Heath Hall of STOP Lawsuit Abuse. "We have funding set aside to see all of them through."

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