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Tea party meet hears of open primary effort

It began as a petition at a hardwarestore.

    Now, Marla Nottingham is moving from a petition to a full ballotinitiative. Her goal is to bring a constitutional amendment openingup Mississippi’s primaries to a statewide vote.

    Nottingham appeared Monday night at the first meeting of theBrookhaven Tea Party. Organizer Kendall Boutwell praisedNottingham’s efforts and voiced support for them.

    “I haven’t hardly found anyone who is opposed to open primaries,”Boutwell said.

    Nottingham, a Bogue Chitto resident, was the featured speaker atMonday night’s meeting, alongside discussion of the threeconstitutional amendments on the Nov. 8 ballot.

    “I should not have to be constrained by a party to vote,”Nottingham said.

    In Mississippi, primary voters must choose either a Republicanballot or a Democratic ballot. This is often considered an openprimary in that voters are not required to register with eitherparty, and from year to year can switch between the parties inprimaries.

    But Nottingham believes Mississippi’s primary system is tooclosed.

    She wants to see a primary with one ballot containing allcandidates from both the Republican and Democratic parties. Thiswould allow citizens to vote in some Democratic primary contestsand simultaneously in some Republican primary races.

    Nottingham’s voting experience in the August primaries moved her toaction.

    “I wrote up a petition with very simple language,” Nottinghamsaid.

    Copies of the petition were placed in businesses around town.

    Momentum began to gather. In five days she collected 1,200signatures.

    Someone told he she might want to contact the Mississippi Secretaryof State’s office, which she did.

    Nottingham found out the ballot initiative process to amend theconstitution is quite involved.

    For one thing, she needed a lawyer, a constitutional lawyer.Nottingham relied on fundraisers to get enough money for one.

    The lawyer will prepare the final language of the proposedamendment, after which Nottingham can begin to collectsignatures.

    This year, 89,285 signatures were required for a ballot to beplaced on the statewide ballot. That number could change inNovember, though. Nottingham explained that the number of requiredsignatures is 12 percent of those who voted in the most recentgovernor’s election.

    Nottingham is not ready to collect signatures for the initiativeyet, as she is still moving through the process.

    At Monday’s Tea Party meeting, she did distribute a sheet that sheencouraged those in attendance to sign. She promised to contacteveryone that signed the sheet once the actual initiative petitionis active.

    Even if she collects the required signatures, Nottingham faces onemore challenge before her initiative can move forward, a challengeunique to her initiative.

    “Here in Mississippi we are held hostage by the Voting Rights Act,”Nottingham said.

    The Voting Rights Act of 1965 bars states from enacting proceduresdesigned to prevent blacks from voting.

    Nottingham explained that due to the Voting Rights Act,Mississippi, along with certain other Southern states, cannot makechanges involving elections without prior approval by the U.S.Department of Justice.

    Nottingham is optimistic about that approval.

    “If we get those signatures they have to realize it is by thepeople for the people,” she said.

    The next meeting of the Brookhaven Tea Party will occur Nov. 14 at6:30 p.m. Boutwell tentatively plans to hold monthly meetings onthe second Monday of every month.