Analysis: Mississippi voting on Jim Crow-era election steps

Mississippi State Capitol in Jackson

Mississippi voters will decide this year whether to simplify the process for electing a governor and other statewide officials by eliminating a step that's a bit like the electoral college in the presidential race.

Posted: Oct 4, 2020 6:15 PM

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi voters will decide this year whether to simplify the process for electing a governor and other statewide officials by eliminating a step that's a bit like the electoral college in the presidential race.

Republican Gov. Tate Reeves argues the proposed change is only designed to help Democrats. But voting-rights advocates say Mississippi needs to erase a procedure that's rooted in the state's racist history of trying to undermine Black voting rights.

The Mississippi Constitution currently requires a statewide candidate to win a majority of the popular vote and a majority of the electoral vote. One electoral vote goes to the candidate receiving the most support in each of the 122 state House districts.

If nobody 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. That means the election could be decided by deal-making or even by the whim of a lawmaker who disagrees with the majority of voters in his or her own district.

The last time a governor’s race was thrown to the Mississippi House was in January 2000. Nobody received the required majorities in a four-person governor's race in 1999. The top two candidates were white, and each won 61 electoral votes. In January 2000, House members chose Democrat Ronnie Musgrove, a one-term lieutenant governor who led the popular vote for governor, over Republican former U.S. Rep. Mike Parker. At the time, the House was controlled by Democrats. It is now controlled by Republicans.

Under proposed constitutional amendment on Mississippi's ballot this year, winning a race for governor or other statewide office would only require a majority of the popular vote. If nobody wins outright with at least three candidates on the ballot, the top two would go to a runoff. The requirement to win a majority of state House districts would disappear.

Mississippi is the only state with a multistep process for electing a governor. It 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.

For years, critics have said the process violates the principle of one person-one vote. And for years, legislators have done nothing to change it, although a few have tried.

Democrats thought the electoral provision might come into play in a tight 2019 governor’s election. But Reeves, who had served two terms as state treasurer and two as lieutenant governor, easily defeated three candidates, including Democrat Jim Hood, who had served four terms as attorney general.

Legislators put the proposed constitutional amendment on this year's ballot only after Black plaintiffs sued the state over its electoral process last year.

During a state election commission meeting last month, Reeves said: “The ballot initiative as it currently stands is going to have one effect and only one effect, and that is to help Democrats — help Democrats try to keep Republicans from getting elected to governor."

About 38% of Mississippi’s residents are Black. The lawsuit, which was backed by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, argued that Mississippi’s election system violates the principle of one-person, one-vote.

Plaintiffs 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 the 2019 governor’s race, U.S. District Judge Daniel P. Jordan III wrote that he has “grave concern” about the constitutionality of the electoral vote provision. Jordan wrote that the plaintiffs’ argument about violation of one person, one vote is “arguably ... their strongest claim.”

Jordan put the lawsuit on hold in December and said he would give legislators a chance to remedy the system by putting a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot. The amendment will need approval from a simple majority of voters.

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Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 250869

Reported Deaths: 5481
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto17010171
Hinds16091318
Harrison13250193
Rankin10629208
Jackson10216182
Lee8759141
Madison8186161
Jones6222109
Forrest5917118
Lauderdale5808180
Lowndes5309111
Lafayette491192
Lamar480465
Washington4770123
Bolivar3955106
Oktibbeha390380
Panola365076
Pontotoc361152
Monroe3521104
Warren344597
Union341458
Marshall339165
Neshoba3357152
Pearl River323295
Leflore2992105
Lincoln295685
Sunflower280469
Tate269560
Alcorn262653
Itawamba261159
Hancock260458
Pike259977
Scott244745
Prentiss244052
Yazoo242654
Tippah239749
Copiah239149
Simpson233967
Leake229564
Coahoma228554
Grenada217070
Covington210471
Marion208371
Adams203270
Winston199464
Wayne198730
George197938
Attala193158
Newton189142
Chickasaw182944
Tishomingo182159
Holmes168167
Jasper167735
Clay158233
Stone141520
Tallahatchie139234
Clarke137460
Calhoun135121
Smith119423
Yalobusha116134
Walthall111736
Noxubee110222
Greene109129
Montgomery109134
Carroll104121
Lawrence102117
Perry100531
Amite96825
Webster91924
Tunica86021
Claiborne85525
Jefferson Davis84025
Humphreys82624
Benton81023
Kemper76620
Quitman6838
Franklin65815
Choctaw60013
Wilkinson58325
Jefferson53419
Sharkey42417
Issaquena1596
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 420681

Reported Deaths: 6119
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson61755921
Mobile30058548
Madison26852186
Tuscaloosa20652266
Montgomery18876305
Shelby18421114
Baldwin16176182
Lee12393101
Morgan12175113
Etowah11687168
Calhoun11078200
Marshall10158107
Houston8556148
Cullman7999105
Limestone796274
Elmore7783101
DeKalb767197
Lauderdale752883
St. Clair7502120
Talladega6145108
Walker5880174
Jackson578841
Colbert529873
Blount529283
Autauga515455
Coffee438156
Dale394381
Franklin365248
Chilton335365
Covington326968
Russell326810
Escambia316142
Dallas302896
Chambers281869
Clarke279633
Tallapoosa2607107
Pike247629
Marion244650
Lawrence242547
Winston225535
Bibb214447
Geneva199535
Marengo197829
Pickens196231
Hale175442
Barbour172336
Butler168458
Fayette167126
Cherokee160030
Henry152721
Monroe145017
Randolph138835
Washington137026
Clay126145
Crenshaw118644
Lamar117519
Cleburne117223
Macon114335
Lowndes109535
Wilcox102621
Bullock98728
Perry96919
Conecuh94220
Sumter88826
Greene75723
Coosa60515
Choctaw51224
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