Judge won't block Mississippi's Jim Crow-era election system

A federal judge ruled Friday that he will not immediately block Mississippi's unique, multistep process for electing a governor and other statewide officials, which was enacted at a time of Jim Crow segregation to maintain white rule.

Posted: Nov 1, 2019 4:06 PM

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A federal judge ruled Friday that he will not immediately block Mississippi's unique, multistep process for electing a governor and other statewide officials, which was enacted at a time of Jim Crow segregation to maintain white rule.

U.S. District Judge Daniel P. Jordan III said he would not issue a preliminary injunction to prevent the system from being used in Tuesday's elections. However, he left open the possibility of further considering the case later.

Mississippi's 1890 constitution requires a statewide candidate to win a majority of the popular vote and a majority of the 122 state House districts. If nobody wins both, the election is decided by the House, and representatives are not obligated to vote as their districts did.

The process was written when white politicians across the South were enacting laws to erase black political power gained during Reconstruction, and 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 who sued the state this year have argued that the system unconstitutionally violates the principle of one person, one vote.

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 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 raised concerns about the timing of the case, noting that Mississippi's election laws "are not merely statutes that can be revised in one legislative session; they are constitutional provisions that require amendment."

"That process cannot occur before the November 2019 votes are counted or within a short time after the election. Indeed, it was already too late when this suit was filed," Jordan wrote. "But based on Plaintiffs' argument during the hearing, it appears the process could be attempted before the next statewide election cycle. If not, then by that time there would presumably have been a trial on the merits, and the Court could craft its own 'remedial plan' if necessary."

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.

Jordan wrote he has "grave concern that at least the Electoral-Vote rule is unconstitutional."

One of the plaintiffs' attorneys, Rob McDuff of the Mississippi Center for Justice, also noted that Jordan said the electoral vote rule eventually could cause "irreparable harm."

"If the electoral vote rule is triggered this time around and puts the House of Representatives in a position to decide the election, it is possible the judge would declare it unconstitutional and require that the candidate with the most (popular) votes be declared the winner," McDuff said.

Jordan wrote Friday that he would issue a separate order on state officials' request that he dismiss the lawsuit.

No other state in the U.S. uses such a method to choose governor, and it's rare for a race to be decided by the Mississippi House. That last happened in 1999, when nobody received the required majorities in a four-person race for governor. The top two candidates were white, and each won 61 electoral votes. House members chose the Democrat who had received the most votes. At the time, the House was controlled by Democrats. It is now controlled by Republicans.

The two major-party nominees for governor this year are Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood. Both are white, but Democrats generally fare well among black voters and Republicans among white ones.

The lawsuit was filed May 30 against two Republican officials — Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, who is Mississippi's top elections officer, and House Speaker Philip Gunn, who would preside if there's a House vote to decide a statewide race.

Eric Holder, who was the first African American to serve as U.S. attorney general, is now chairman of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, whose affiliated foundation is providing financial and legal backing for the lawsuit.

When Jordan heard arguments Oct. 11, he said few federal court rulings have provided clear guidance for how he should decide the case and whether a constitutional violation would occur when voters cast ballots or at some point later in the process.

Jordan raised questions about the timing of the case that challenges a system in place nearly 130 years, and he said courts are "generally ill-equipped" to decide what kind of voting laws a state should have.

"No matter what I do, I would encourage the other side to appeal immediately," Jordan said during the Oct. 11 hearing.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 29684

Reported Deaths: 1103
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds238239
DeSoto148616
Madison126734
Jones110449
Neshoba98171
Lauderdale90079
Rankin88812
Forrest85142
Harrison84210
Scott76215
Copiah59216
Jackson58416
Leake57019
Holmes54441
Wayne53513
Lee53218
Oktibbeha53226
Washington5319
Warren49618
Yazoo4936
Leflore48049
Lowndes47212
Lincoln44334
Lamar4407
Grenada4325
Pike40712
Monroe38830
Lafayette3774
Attala35823
Sunflower3467
Newton3389
Covington3345
Panola3256
Bolivar32114
Adams29318
Simpson2833
Pontotoc2736
Marion27011
Tate2709
Chickasaw26918
Claiborne25610
Jasper2566
Winston2546
Noxubee2538
Pearl River24832
Clay24710
Marshall2173
Smith21611
Clarke20524
Coahoma1916
Union1919
Walthall1804
Kemper17714
Lawrence1701
Yalobusha1677
Carroll16411
Itawamba1348
Humphreys1329
Calhoun1284
Tippah12811
Hancock12613
Webster12610
Montgomery1242
Tallahatchie1224
Jefferson Davis1094
Prentiss1023
Greene1018
Jefferson993
Tunica933
Wilkinson929
Amite892
George783
Tishomingo741
Quitman730
Choctaw724
Perry654
Alcorn631
Stone571
Franklin412
Sharkey340
Benton300
Issaquena91
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 41362

Reported Deaths: 983
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson4802152
Montgomery3947103
Mobile3904134
Tuscaloosa218842
Marshall168010
Lee130237
Madison12717
Shelby117623
Morgan10475
Walker90524
Franklin87814
Dallas8689
Elmore86414
Baldwin8289
Etowah70713
DeKalb6945
Butler62328
Chambers61227
Tallapoosa58369
Autauga56012
Russell5190
Unassigned50323
Lauderdale4736
Limestone4660
Lowndes46321
Houston4614
Cullman4354
Pike4175
Colbert3836
Coffee3702
Bullock3679
St. Clair3472
Barbour3452
Covington3437
Escambia3326
Calhoun3225
Hale30621
Marengo30011
Talladega3007
Wilcox2898
Sumter28412
Clarke2726
Dale2680
Jackson2632
Winston2463
Monroe2312
Chilton2282
Blount2261
Pickens2226
Marion21413
Randolph2019
Conecuh1977
Choctaw19512
Bibb1861
Greene1838
Macon1819
Perry1621
Henry1313
Crenshaw1253
Lawrence1050
Washington1047
Cherokee857
Geneva780
Lamar751
Fayette671
Clay622
Coosa581
Cleburne361
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