Beware the invasion of politicians into the worlds of public education and election ballots. On Nov. 3, Mississippi voters will appear at the polls in a statewide general election and scratch their heads in confusion whether to vote for or against Initiative 42 and the Legislature's alternative 42A. The initiative ballot is a convoluted mishmash of adjectives, modifiers and action verbs. Proposition 42 and 42A, juxtaposed on the ballot, read like two boxers who have bludgeoned themselves through eight rounds of literary linguistics and grammatical rope-a-dope.
Measure 42 asks whether the "state" should be "required" to provide for the support of an "adequate and efficient" system of free public schools.
Measure 42A, on the other hand, asks whether the "Legislature" should provide for the support of an "effective" system of free public schools, adding the qualifier phrase "without judicial enforcement."
Let's imagine, not a typical Mississippi voter, but a Ph.D. English professor perusing this ballot. When comparing the two questions side by side, she might question the difference between the "state" and the "Legislature." Perhaps with some analysis, the trained academic may glean the "state" includes all branches of government, including judicial and executive wings.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Sun Herald
Moving on to the adjectives, Prop 42 questions whether the state should be "required" to provide an "adequate and efficient" public school system, while 42A deletes the "required" element and substitutes the word "effective" for "adequate and efficient."
I imagine an English Ph.D. at this point may pull out her phone and check her Thesaurus App for distinguishing "adequate" from "effective." If she is able to discern the subtle distinction, she will stumble upon the confounding conundrum that a synonym for the term "efficient" in Prop 42 is "effective," the very term used in Prop 42A!
After the English grammar exercise, the professor quietly says to herself, "Eureka! These two proposals, 42 and 42A, are saying the same thing, except 42A does not want judges interpreting the law."
After a pause, she realizes the puzzle is not solved muttering, "Aren't judges elected to interpret and enforce the law?"
If this imaginary voter is looking for help in the explanatory section of the ballot, she's out of luck.
The ballot first explains 42 is established to provide an adequate education for Mississippi school children and gives courts the authority to enforce the law.
This sounds admirable, but heaven forbid she keeps reading. The ballot then states the Legislative budget office has determined that the State cannot afford to fund adequate education for all public schools.
The vocabulary tug of war between legislators backing 42A and the proponents for 42 has created a voting ballot of word clutter, leaving the voters to figure out the nuances of language gymnastics.
When you go to the polls on Nov. 3, get ready to spend extra time reading and deciphering questions and explanations of Prop 42 and 42A. The success or failure of these initiatives will be just as improbable and unpredictable as a truck driver winning the Democratic nomination for governor without campaign money and not a second to spare to vote for himself on primary Election Day.
Write Clark Hicks, a lawyer who lives in Hattiesburg, at email@example.com.