JACKSON, Miss. – Voters decide Tuesday whether Mississippi will remain the last state to prominently feature a Confederate battle emblem as part of its flag.
Debate over the banner has remained largely an internal matter, with the national NAACP and several states' Sons of Confederate Veterans chapters helping finance campaigns but letting local leaders push their opposing messages to voters.
Supporters of the old flag see it as a tie to Mississippi's heritage, while new flag backers say the old design is forever tainted by racist groups. They argue keeping that flag will only isolate Mississippi from mainstream America.
Voters will have two choices: The 1894 flag with the Confederate emblem of 13 white stars on a blue X over a red field; or a banner that replaces the Confederate symbol with 20 white stars on a blue square, representing Mississippi as the 20th state.
Ballots will list the 1894 flag as Proposition A and the new design as Proposition B.
Polls are open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
The state Supreme Court found last May that the 1894 flag had no official standing since state laws were updated in 1906. The flag has continued to fly by tradition, and legislators set Tuesday's special election.
Eugene Bryant of Monticello, president of the Mississippi Conference of the NAACP, said the Confederate emblem has been used by the Ku Klux Klan and other hate groups to promote white supremacy and segregation.
"Mississippi has the perception of a racist state. In a global economy, Mississippi needs to present a flag that represents all its people," Bryant said Monday. "We're not seeking to destroy history or heritage. We're demanding respect for our own history and heritage."
Kenneth McNease of Columbia is a Sons of Confederate Veterans member whose great-great grandfather, Jessie E. Farve, fought with the 17th Mississippi Cavalry. McNease planned to wear his Confederate re-enactor's uniform to an old flag rally late Monday.
"Whether they change the flag tomorrow or whether it stays the same, people are still going to be the same," McNease said. "What's to stop them next year from saying we want to take the crosses off the churches because the Ku Klux Klan has been burning crosses in people's yards?"
Advocates on both sides are reluctant to predict an outcome but in a poll last month, two-thirds of respondents favored keeping the 1894 flag.
The poll -- commissioned by The Associated Press, The Commercial Dispatch of Columbus, Emmerich Newspapers, The Sun Herald of Gulfport-Biloxi and WTVA-TV of Tupelo -- was conducted before advocates on either side geared up with radio ads, phone calls and rallies to persuade voters.
Four groups supporting a new flag have raised $705,501, according to reports filed last week in the secretary of state's office. The largest fund-raising group was Mississippi Legacy Fund, which listed donations from business leaders, lawyers and some famous Mississippians such as actor Morgan Freeman.
Four groups supporting the 1894 flag have reported raising $123,023. That includes $112,533 listed on a Sons of Confederate Veterans report filed Monday, six days after the disclosure deadline.
SCV's largest contributor was its own international headquarters in Columbia, Tenn., which gave $65,000. The group reported spending more than $57,000 on television, radio and newspaper advertising. It also bought yard signs and gave money to its local camps for campaign efforts.
South Carolina lawmakers, under economic pressure from the NAACP, last year removed a freestanding Confederate battle flag from atop the statehouse dome in Columbia. Georgia legislators in January shrunk the Confederate battle symbol that dominated that state's flag since 1956.
In the waning hours before Mississippi's vote, a Jackson State University political science professor said the flag debate had opened a new path for public discourse over racial issues.
"If we don't continue the dialogue, we fall back into these camps, these divisions," Leslie B. McLemore said Monday at a media luncheon. "One day we're going to have a new flag. It may not be in my lifetime. But for now, it's profoundly important that we continue the dialogue about race."