Mississippi Woman Seeks to Change Primary System

By: Mike McDaniel
By: Mike McDaniel

A Lincoln County woman fed up with the state's current closed primary election system wants to change how Mississippians vote.

Marla Nottingham is starting out small, but is hoping her effort pays off for others looking for the same change.

"It's just wrong. It's just wrong on so many levels," said Nottingham.

To Nottingham, each signature on her grassroots petition is a step in the right direction.

"I've had nothing but excellent reaction," she said. "So many people that I've talked to are just frustrated."

Nottingham is hoping to change Mississippi's closed primary election system, which requires voters to choose a political party before they cast a ballot, and then only vote for candidates within that party.

"The fact that I'm an independent and I was made to choose a party at this election last week really bothered me," said Nottingham. "I believe that I should vote for the man or woman; that's voting for office on their merits, not on their party affiliation."

In the few days she has been circulating her petition, more than 500 people already agree with her, ad the list is growing with folks like Patsy Moak, who wasted no time in adding her name to the list.

"I think it's a great idea to be like Louisiana," Moak said. "Flip flop and you can vote for any party."

So far Nottingham is a one-woman show, hoping her petition will spread across the state and accomplish something once in the spotlight before.

State lawmakers have taken up open primary legislation in the past but it never made it into law. Through this petition, the hope is to circumvent the legislative process altogether.

The U.S. Justice Department struck down the legislature's attempts, so by creating a voter initiative, Nottingham hopes the decision will be left in the hands of voters.

"People have to have the right to choose," said Nottingham.
"They have to have the freedom to vote the way they want to and not be told you have to choose one or the other."

From feeds stores to small town restaurants, it's a petition process Nottingham says she'll continue to fight for, one signature at a time.

Nottingham does plan to eventually turn the petition over to the secretary of state's office, once she gets enough signatures, which of course, will all have to be verified.

Nottingham says she does not have the resources to travel the state, but those interested in joining her effort may reach her at 601-734-6763.

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