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Mississippi votes 2-1 to keep existing 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 -- Mississippians have voted overwhelmingly to keep the Confederate emblem on its state flag, the last in the U.S. to prominently display the symbol.

With 57 percent of the precincts in, The Associated Press reported 269,737 voters, or 67 percent, favored keeping the old flag and 133,334, or 33 percent percent, favored replacing it.

The Mississippi secretary of state's office said it would not release official results, until at least Wednesday.

Polls taken before Tuesday's referendum on replacing the 107-year-old state banner showed supporters of the proposed new flag trailing by double-digit margins.

"The initial polls coming from around the state look very good," said John Cripps, a supporter of the current state flag, said before polls closed. "We believe tonight we'll have a victory celebration."

But advocates of replacing the flag, which includes the Confederate battle flag in the top left corner, say they'll continue their campaign if they come up short in Tuesday's vote.

The state of race relations

"We're going to get back out diligently with the governor and legislators and try to put this issue back on the ballot," state NAACP representative Wayne McDaniels told CNN.

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

State records show proponents of the new flag, including many business interests in the state, have spent more than $600,000 on a sophisticated campaign to get rid of the old flag.

"We've made so much progress, and the rest of the country isn't seeing that," said George Shelton of the Mississippi Legacy Fund, a group backing the proposed new flag. "We need a symbol that represents the entire state, that shows that we're moving forward."

By contrast, the documents show four groups opposed to changing the flag have spent about $125,000. Most of that came 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.

Mississippi is the last state whose flag contains as a major element the Confederate battle emblem. Critics call it a symbol of racism and slavery, but supporters say it reflects Southern heritage and pride.

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

"States that have removed it, like Alabama, have moved forward," Wilson said. "We can get the same kind of growth by sending that signal around the world that we have moved forward."

The new flag design is similar to the current one, 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.

Supporters of the current flag say there's no evidence that it deterred companies like Japanese automaker Nissan, which announced it would open a plant in Mississippi.

"If this is all a matter of the flag keeping away businesses, then why did Nissan come here instead of Alabama?" Cripps asked.

The law setting up the flag referendum provides that, if the new flag is adopted, no other "items, structures or areas" related to the Confederacy can be renamed without the consent of two-thirds of the Legislature.

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 historic banners at the bottom of the new state flag -- at the behest of Democratic Gov. Roy Barnes.

In 2000, South Carolina officials took the Confederate battle flag down from atop the Statehouse in Columbia after a legislative vote. The state flag, which didn't contain the Rebel battle ensign, was not changed.

National Correspondent Brian Cabell contributed to this report.

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4:30pm ET, 4/16

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