It’s déjà vu all over again. In a 6-3 ruling this week, the Mississippi Supreme Court struck down the state’s constitutional ballot initiative process. This is not the first time MS’ highest court killed off direct democracy on a technicality, though the last time was a century ago.

In the second decade of the 20th century, the Mississippi legislature referred two direct democracy amendments to the people for adoption. In 1912, the referred measure was defeated at the polls, gaining only 35% of the popular vote. In 1914, though, Mississippi voters passed the measure with 69% of the vote, adding, at least nominally, the right of people to place statewide measures on the ballot. In 1922, the state’s Supreme Court voided the election. My article in the APSR with Dustin Fridkin looks at some of the factors that led to the legislative referral to the people of measures such as these.

The 1914 legislative referral gave considerable power to the citizens, at least in theory. Initiative petitions, for either constitutional amendments or statutes, required valid signatures from 7,500 qualified voters to qualify a statewide measure for the ballot. The Governor could not veto an initiative if approved by the electorate. An initial legal challenge, Howie v. Brantley (1917), the state Supreme Court upheld the initiative process (as well as the popular referendum). Several years later, after a group circulated a ballot initiative to reduce the $40,000 annual salary of the State Revenue Agent, Stokes V. Robertson, Robertson sued in state court, arguing that the 1914 referred measure placed on the ballot by the legislature was invalid for a technical reason, specifically, that it did not allow voters to to “vote for or against each amendment separately.” In 1922, the Mississippi Supreme Court reversed its earlier ruling and held that the state’s short-lived (and never actualized) initiative process was unconstitutional.

The legislative crackdown on mail voting across the states will likely result in longer lines and increased wait times at the polls…and studies show that such barriers to voting are not evenly distributed across the electorate.

Here are some articles on who is affected when there are lines at the polls.

Herron and Smith, 2015. Precinct closing times in Florida during the 2012 general election, Election Law Journal.

Herron and Smith, 2016. Precinct resources and voter wait times, Electoral Studies.

Cottrell, Herron, and Smith. 2020. Voting lines, equal treatment, and early voting check-in times in Florida, State Politics & Policy Quarterly.

Interested in differential effects on racial & ethnic minorities and young voters (e.g., wait times, rejected VBM and provisional ballots, turnout) when states alter their election codes? Links here:

  • Enrijeta Shino, Mara Suttmann-Lea, and Daniel A. Smith. 2021 “Assessing Rejected Mail Ballots in Georgia: Implications for COVID-19,” Political Research Quarterly (February).
  • Michael C. Herron and Daniel A. Smith. 2021. “Postal Delivery Disruptions and the Fragility of Voting by Mail: Lessons from Maine,” Research & Politics (January).
  • Anna Baringer, Michael Herron, and Daniel A. Smith. 2020. “Voting by Mail and Ballot Rejection: Lessons from Florida for Elections in the Age of the Coronavirus,” Election Law Journal 19(3): 289-320.
  • Enrijeta Shino and Daniel A. Smith. 2020. “Political Knowledge and Convenience Voting,” Journal of Elections, Public Opinion and Parties (August).
  • Enrijeta Shino and Daniel A. Smith. 2020. “Mobilizing the Youth Vote? Early Voting on College Campuses.” Election Law Journal 19(4): 524-541.
  • David Cottrell, Michael C. Herron, and Daniel A. Smith. 2020. “Voting Lines, Equal Treatment, and Early Voting Check-in Times in Florida,” State Politics and Policy Quarterly.
  • Thessalia Merivaki and Daniel A. Smith. 2019. “A Failsafe for Voters? Cast and Rejected Provisional Ballots in North Carolina,” Political Research Quarterly 73(1): 65-78.
  • Hannah L. Walker, Michael C. Herron, and Daniel A. Smith. 2019. “North Carolina voter turnout and early voting hours in the 2016 General Election.” Political Behavior 41: 841-69.
  • Daniel Biggers and Daniel A. Smith. 2020. “Does Threatening their Franchise Make Registered Voters More Likely to Participate? Evidence from an Aborted Voter Purge.” British Journal of Political Science 50(3): 933-954.
  • Brian Amos, Daniel A. Smith, and Casey Ste. Claire. 2017. “Reprecincting and Voting Behavior,” Political Behavior 39(1): 133-156.
  • Michael C. Herron and Daniel A. Smith. 2016. “Race, Shelby County, and the Voter Information Verification Act in North Carolina,” Florida State University Law Review 43: 465-506.
  • Michael C. Herron and Daniel A. Smith. 2016. “Precinct Resources and Voter Wait Times,” Electoral Studies 42: 249–63.
  • Thessalia Merivaki and Daniel A. Smith. 2016. “Casting and Verifying Provisional Ballots in Florida,” Social Science Quarterly 97(3): 729–47.
  • Michael C. Herron and Daniel A. Smith. 2015. “Precinct Closing Times in Florida during the 2012 General Election,” Election Law Journal 14: 220-38.
  • Michael C. Herron and Daniel A. Smith. 2014. “Race, Party, and the Consequences of Restricting Early Voting in Florida in the 2012 General Election,” Political Research Quarterly 67: 646-65.
  • Michael C. Herron and Daniel A. Smith. 2013. “The Effects of House Bill 1355 on Voter Registration in Florida,” State Politics and Policy Quarterly, 13: 279-305.
  • Michael C. Herron and Daniel A. Smith. 2012. “Souls to the Polls: Early Voting in Florida in the Shadow of House Bill 1355,” Election Law Journal 11: 331-47.

New Paper: “Residual Votes in the 2020 Election in Georgia”

“Residual Votes in the 2020 Election in Georgia”

David Cottrell, Felix E. Herron, Michael C. Herron, and Daniel A. Smith


The 2020 General Election took place against the backdrop of a pandemic and numerous claims about incipient voter fraud and election malfeasance. No state’s presidential race was closer than Georgia’s, where a hand recount of the presidential contest is planned. As an initial post-election audit of the 2020 election in Georgia, we analyze residual vote rates in statewide races. A race’s residual vote rate combines the rates at which ballots contain undervotes (abstentions) and overvotes (which occur when voters cast more than the allowed number of votes in a race). Anomalously high residual vote rates can be indicative of underlying election administration problems, like ballot design flaws. Our analysis of residual vote rates in Georgia uncovers nothing anomalous in the presidential race, a notable result given this race’s closeness. We do, however, nd an unusually high overvote rate in Georgia’s special election for a seat in the United States Senate. This high overvote rate is concentrated in Gwinnett County and appears to reflect the county’s two-column ballot design that led roughly 4,000 voters to select more than one candidate for senate in the special election, in the process rendering invalid their votes in this contest.

The full paper is available here.