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Mississippi will retain its 107-year-old flag

Voters had two choices: Keep the 1894 flag with the Confederate battle emblem ...  
... or adopt a new flag that replaces the Confederate symbol with 20 white stars on a blue square, denoting Mississippi's role as the 20th state in the Union  

JACKSON, Mississippi (CNN) -- Mississippi voters decided by a nearly 2-to-1 margin Tuesday that the state should retain its 107-year-old flag emblazoned with the Confederate battle flag in its upper left corner.

Mississippi is the last state in the union to feature the Confederate battle flag in its standard, although the flags of Florida and Alabama incorporate the Cross of St. Andrew on which the original flag was based.

The ballot Tuesday asked voters to choose between the current flag and one that replaced the Confederate emblem with 20 white stars arranged on a field of blue to symbolize Mississippi's rank in admission to the union.

With all precincts counted, the Associated Press reported that 488,630 voters, or 65 percent, favored keeping the 1894 flag, while 267,812 voters, or 35 percent, wanted to replace it.

The Mississippi secretary of state's office said it hoped to release official numbers later in the day.

The state of race relations

Turnout was reported heavy in parts of Jackson, the capital, but light in other parts of the state.

Those who wanted the Confederate emblem removed from the flag said during the day Tuesday that a defeat at the polls would not end their campaign.

"We're going to get back out diligently with the governor and legislators and try to put this issue back on the ballot," Wayne McDaniels of the NAACP said on CNN's "TalkBack Live."

Local members of the NAACP and a coalition of politicians and activists have worked to remove the battle flag, arguing that it represents an ignominious time in national history and is an affront to the descendants of those who were held in slavery.

Those who supported the current flag argued that their opponents were misguided -- and mistaken about the symbolism of the battle flag. The current version of the flag was first hoisted in 1894.

Greg Stewart, a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, Tuesday urged supporters of the new version of the flag to focus on issues he feels are more important.

"Join us and let's move forward on something that means something. We've spent a lot of time and a lot of money on this useless exercise in political correctness," Stewart said. "Our teachers need a raise, we have rampant crime -- that's what we need to be focusing on. We've got to come together as Mississippians."

Proponents of the new flag, including many business interests in the state, waged a sophisticated campaign costing more than $639,000. That price tag included polling, consultants' fees and $150,000 in radio advertising, according to the most recent campaign disclosure documents posted on the Internet site of the Mississippi secretary of state's office.

Blake Wilson of the Mississippi Economic Council said keeping the flag would be detrimental to the state's economy.

"Many companies have diversity policies that do not allow this flag to be displayed in their workplaces. So it becomes a negative on the balance sheet in locating companies to the state," he said. "States that have removed it, like Alabama, have moved forward. We can get the same kind of growth by sending that signal around the world that we have moved forward."

By contrast, the documents show four groups supporting the current flag spent about $125,000, which came mostly from individual contributors and was spent on printings, mailings, yard signs, billboards and ads on cable TV, small town TV and radio stations and newspapers.

Supporters of the current flag say there is no evidence it deterred companies such as Japanese automaker Nissan, which announced it would open a plant in Mississippi.

The flag design rejected Tuesday by the voters was similar to the current flag's layout, except that the Confederate emblem is replaced by a blue field with 19 small white stars encircling one large white star. The large star represents Mississippi; the smaller stars represent the other 19 states that were in the union when Mississippi became a state.

Earlier this year, the Georgia Legislature removed the Confederate battle emblem from its prominent place on the state flag -- reducing it to one of five small representations of historical banners at the bottom of the new state flag. The move was promoted by Democratic Gov. Roy Barnes.

In 2000, South Carolina officials took the Confederate battle flag from atop the state capitol in Columbia after a vote of the legislature. The state flag does not contain a Confederate symbol and was not changed.

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4:30pm ET, 4/16

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