Analysis: Mississippi could erase multistep election system

MGN Online

Mississippi voters might get a chance to purge a Jim Crow-era provision from the state constitution and simplify the process of electing the governor and other statewide officials.

Posted: Jun 14, 2020 4:43 PM

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi voters might get a chance to purge a Jim Crow-era provision from the state constitution and simplify the process of electing the governor and other statewide officials.

Legislators are close to agreeing on House Concurrent Resolution 47. It would put a proposal on the ballot this November, letting people decide whether to erase an Electoral College-type provision from the state's 1890 constitution. The proposal says that a candidate who wins a majority of the popular vote would win a statewide election. If nobody receives a majority in a race with three or more candidates, the top two would go to a runoff.

The Mississippi Constitution currently requires a statewide candidate to win a majority of the popular vote and a majority of electoral vote. One electoral vote is awarded to the candidate receiving the most support in each of the 122 state House districts. If no candidate wins both the popular vote and the electoral vote, the race is decided by the state House. But, representatives are not obligated to vote as their districts did — and that means arm-twisting could decide the outcome of an election.

Mississippi is the only state with this multistep process for electing a governor. The process was written when white politicians across the South were enacting laws to erase black political power gained during Reconstruction. The separate House vote was promoted as a way for the white ruling class have the final say in who holds office.

African American plaintiffs sued Mississippi in 2019 in an effort backed by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. They argued that the state's multistep process unconstitutionally violates the principle of one person, one vote. Plaintiffs’ attorneys said Mississippi’s history of racially polarized voting means that candidates preferred by black voters must receive a higher share of the statewide vote to win a majority of House districts.

Days before Mississippi elected statewide officials in November, U.S. District Judge Daniel P. Jordan III wrote that he has “grave concern” about the constitutionality the electoral vote provision. Jordan wrote that the plaintiffs’ argument about violation of one person, one vote is “arguably ... their strongest claim.”

The plaintiffs’ attorneys argued that the Mississippi system for electing statewide officials is similar to a Georgia county-unit election rule that was invalidated by a federal court ruling in 1963.

“They’re right,” Jordan wrote.

Jordan noted that Mississippi’s election provisions “are not merely statutes that can be revised in one legislative session; they are constitutional provisions that require amendment.” Jordan put the lawsuit on hold in December, saying he would give legislators a chance to remedy the system.

That's where the proposed constitutional amendment comes in. Legislatures must put the question on the statewide ballot, and adopting an amendment would require a simple majority of votes.

That last time a governor's race was thrown to the Mississippi House was 20 years ago. Nobody received the required majorities in a four-person race for governor in 1999. The top two candidates were white, and each won 61 electoral votes. In January 2000, House members chose Democrat Ronnie Musgrove, who had received the most votes, over Republican Mike Parker. At the time, the House was controlled by Democrats. It is now controlled by Republicans.

Some Democrats thought the electoral provision might come into play in a tight 2019 governor's election, but Republican Tate Reeves easily defeated Democrat Jim Hood and two lesser-known candidates.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 307332

Reported Deaths: 7095
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto20757248
Hinds19869408
Harrison17475302
Rankin13307275
Jackson13095243
Madison9886210
Lee9854169
Jones8289160
Forrest7522146
Lauderdale7185237
Lowndes6261144
Lamar610284
Lafayette6026117
Washington5279132
Bolivar4769129
Oktibbeha455297
Panola4440103
Pearl River4418139
Warren4277118
Marshall4267100
Pontotoc416472
Monroe4056132
Union403575
Neshoba3984176
Lincoln3869107
Hancock371985
Leflore3468124
Sunflower329389
Tate322681
Pike3177104
Scott310472
Yazoo304268
Alcorn297664
Itawamba296776
Copiah292965
Coahoma289677
Simpson287484
Tippah284668
Prentiss275659
Marion265679
Wayne261341
Leake260973
Grenada254882
Covington254380
Adams245882
Newton244859
George237647
Winston225981
Tishomingo222067
Jasper219748
Attala213273
Chickasaw204857
Holmes186471
Clay182354
Stone179131
Clarke176676
Tallahatchie175240
Calhoun163130
Yalobusha158636
Smith158534
Walthall130543
Greene129433
Lawrence126223
Noxubee125833
Montgomery125542
Perry125138
Carroll120826
Amite119941
Webster113432
Jefferson Davis105332
Tunica102525
Claiborne101330
Benton97225
Kemper95126
Humphreys94332
Franklin81723
Quitman78916
Choctaw72817
Jefferson64828
Wilkinson64727
Sharkey49617
Issaquena1686
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 518588

Reported Deaths: 10712
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson753351487
Mobile37698798
Madison33829494
Tuscaloosa25245443
Montgomery23942565
Shelby23094238
Baldwin20617300
Lee15510165
Calhoun14277311
Morgan14137268
Etowah13660345
Marshall11952219
Houston10379278
Elmore9988200
Limestone9806147
Cullman9467188
St. Clair9422234
Lauderdale9208227
DeKalb8745181
Talladega8042171
Walker7087275
Jackson6753110
Autauga6715103
Blount6480135
Colbert6200130
Coffee5397112
Dale4766110
Russell428238
Franklin419882
Chilton4080109
Covington4053114
Tallapoosa3892146
Escambia387574
Dallas3526149
Chambers3499122
Clarke346360
Marion3065100
Pike305475
Lawrence295295
Winston272272
Bibb256258
Marengo248561
Geneva245875
Pickens232959
Barbour224755
Hale218675
Butler212266
Fayette208960
Henry187844
Cherokee182044
Randolph176741
Monroe171240
Washington163838
Macon154348
Clay149354
Crenshaw149257
Cleburne146041
Lamar139234
Lowndes136453
Wilcox124327
Bullock121340
Conecuh109028
Perry107926
Sumter102932
Coosa99228
Greene90734
Choctaw58624
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