Mississippi should restore the ballot initiative and make voting easier, D. Ryan Grover says. The 34-year-old Democrat is challenging incumbent Republican Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann, 76, for his job in Tuesday’s statewide elections.
“In what democracy are people not allowed to have an opinion? You know, we’re totally beholden to our government, our state government, and the people have to have a say in it,” he told the Mississippi Free Press on Oct. 12. “And what’s been happening is that (Republican legislators) wanted to keep adding stipulations to the ballot initiative.”
On May 14, 2021, the Mississippi Supreme Court nullified the citizen-led ballot initiative process and the medical-marijuana program, which 68% of Mississippi voters chose in the 2020 election, based on a technicality. It was the second time in 99 years that Mississippi’s highest court had taken the right to put issues on the ballot away from voters.
Voters adopted the most recent ballot-initiative system in the 1990s under Section 273 of the Mississippi Constitution. The law says that citizens who want to get an issue on a ballot must gather one-fifth of the total required signatures from each of the five congressional districts. But Mississippi lost a congressional district after the 2000 Census. The Mississippi Supreme Court ruled no ballot initiative can be valid with just four congressional districts.
Grover said restoring the ballot initiative is simple: legislators just need to update Section 273’s language to fit four congressional districts instead of five. To do that, lawmakers would have to put a referendum on the ballot to change the Constitution, and voters would have to adopt it.
“Day one (when) I get elected, we’re going to restore the ballot initiative ASAP because there’s no excuse for (legislators) to have not fixed that, especially whenever all they have to do is change a five to a four for the congressional districts,” he said. “That’s literally all they have to do. And it’s been three years now, and they’ve been unable to do it.”
An effort to restore ballot initiatives failed earlier this year as Republican lawmakers clashed over how a restored ballot-initiative system should work.
“I have consistently said I am in favor of an initiative process in Mississippi. I trust the voters of the state, both in who they elect to office and on policy matters,” Hosemann said in March. “A number of Republicans in the Senate have a different opinion on the initiative issue. This is the legislative process, and we will continue that process.”
‘One of the Hardest Election Processes’
Ryan Grover said he wants to implement voting reforms, including online voter registration and other technological improvements to improve ballot access.
“I think that Mississippi has one of the hardest election processes,” he said.
If elected, the candidate said he would work with the secretary of state to make voting easier and more transparent. He said he had spoken with Democratic candidate for secretary of state Ty Pinkins about improving the voting process with technology. Poll workers should be properly trained to make the voting process smoother, he added. The Mississippi secretary of state’s office, which Republican Michael Watson currently leads, is in charge of training poll workers.
Forty-two states and Washington, D.C., have online voter registration. Mississippi, Arkansas, Texas, Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota and New Hampshire are the only states that do not. Watson has expressed support in the past for adopting online voter registration, but the Legislature has not adopted legislation to make it possible.
Grover said he also wants to improve voter education so that Mississippians know when and where to vote and who is on the ballot.
“I think that that’s been a huge issue in Mississippi again is that people don’t know when to vote,” he said. “They don’t know the day to vote; they don’t know that this is an election year at all.”
If elected, Grover said he would work to clear the records of people convicted of nonviolent crimes who have served their sentences. Formerly incarcerated people should be able to vote, he added.
“As many people as possible should be able to vote, and if it includes that you did some sort of crime 10 years ago and you served a good life since then, you should be able to vote too,” Grover said.
Currently, Mississippi’s Jim Crow-era felony disenfranchisement law permanently prohibits tens of thousands of residents from voting for life.
Grover said he supports Medicaid expansion, which some experts say could add 220,000 working Mississippians to the Medicaid rolls. Expansion would cover residents who make between 100% and 400% of the federal poverty level. The federal government would fund 90% of the program and give the State more than $1 billion per year.
“I think that hospitals need every single dime that we can get them,” Grover said.
Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann has also expressed support for Medicaid expansion in the past but has not advanced legislation to implement the policy with both the current governor and the outgoing speaker of the House opposing it.
Before Grover decided to run for lieutenant governor, he said he was looking at jobs in Atlanta, Ga., because opportunities in Mississippi had dried up for him.
“For me, a lot of it has to do with providing proper training for our students so that whenever they are finished with college they’ll have skills that they can take and work with Mississippi businesses,” he said.
Providing good jobs for young, educated Mississippians is essential if the state wants to cure its brain drain and staunch the flight of young people leaving, Grover said. Good-paying jobs will come to Mississippi if people are educated and hardworking, he added.
“We have to bring businesses in,” Grover said. “We have to have a reason for them to come with creating an educated workforce.”
Another way to get people to move to Mississippi or stay in the state is for people to work remotely and live cheaply in a Mississippi home or apartment and help “develop the economy,” he continued.
‘Creating a More Modern Mississippi’
Grover owns Tryangle Solutions, a business-consulting firm in Oxford, Miss., where he currently lives. He has also worked for the nonprofit Mississippi Votes and served as the public relations chair for Mississippi College Democrats.
The candidate has worked in internet-technology jobs, which he said gives him an advantage because he can talk to tech companies and entrepreneurial startups to bring their businesses to Mississippi. He also worked for the Oxford University Transit system before opening his consulting business.
One of Grover’s top priorities if elected is to bring more technology into the State’s government. He proposed switching from using paper to tablets to save money.
“And that’s really what it comes down to with me is just kind of creating a modern Mississippi, one where technology really helps, you know, provide transparency, provide efficiency and overall make the life of Mississippians better,” he said.
The Mississippi Free Press contacted Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann’s office three times throughout October to schedule an interview, but a spokesperson said he was unavailable.
Mississippians will vote for lieutenant governor and other statewide, legislative and regional offices on Nov. 7, 2023. Any eligible registered voter who registered in person by Oct. 9 or had their voter registration application postmarked by Oct. 10 can cast a ballot in the general election.
Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Contact your local circuit clerk or election commissioners for polling place information. Voters must bring an accepted form of voter ID to the polls. For more information, visit sos.ms.gov/yall-vote.