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: 481397

Reported Deaths: 9395
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison32996486
Hinds30973586
DeSoto30491353
Jackson23650348
Rankin21267368
Lee14867220
Madison14145271
Jones13365226
Forrest13125238
Lauderdale11538305
Lowndes10418176
Lamar10184130
Pearl River9055219
Lafayette8218137
Hancock7501112
Washington7033150
Oktibbeha6937124
Monroe6491161
Neshoba6463201
Warren6439163
Pontotoc626593
Panola6219126
Bolivar6105144
Marshall6102121
Union573086
Pike5590136
Alcorn536090
Lincoln5297131
George470072
Scott456096
Leflore4468140
Prentiss445277
Tippah443680
Itawamba4430100
Adams4403116
Tate4351101
Simpson4324112
Wayne431566
Copiah431087
Yazoo423086
Covington414792
Sunflower4137104
Marion4087104
Leake397186
Coahoma394298
Newton368775
Grenada3553104
Stone350659
Tishomingo334689
Attala324886
Jasper313762
Winston303591
Clay295273
Chickasaw286665
Clarke280290
Calhoun265140
Holmes261887
Smith249549
Yalobusha220547
Tallahatchie218850
Walthall210558
Greene207845
Lawrence206033
Perry199353
Amite198152
Webster195942
Noxubee178239
Montgomery172054
Jefferson Davis167642
Carroll161937
Tunica152734
Benton142035
Kemper138440
Claiborne126634
Choctaw126326
Humphreys126337
Franklin116628
Quitman103626
Wilkinson101536
Jefferson88833
Sharkey62820
Issaquena1926
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 781915

Reported Deaths: 13798
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1109621748
Mobile706071213
Madison49359617
Baldwin36054485
Shelby35933311
Tuscaloosa33540540
Montgomery32996673
Lee22337218
Calhoun20935400
Morgan19666329
Etowah18890454
Marshall17575274
Houston16598377
St. Clair15287298
Limestone14442184
Cullman14441252
Elmore14299259
Lauderdale13395278
Talladega12781234
DeKalb12102233
Walker10495328
Autauga9611135
Blount9595154
Jackson9293152
Coffee8764174
Dale8485171
Colbert8448180
Tallapoosa6557177
Escambia6541117
Covington6409165
Chilton6314142
Russell600655
Franklin5744101
Chambers5350133
Marion4748116
Dallas4672185
Clarke459177
Pike458895
Geneva4333116
Winston420292
Lawrence4099108
Bibb405680
Barbour342969
Marengo324783
Monroe316652
Butler316088
Randolph302855
Pickens300673
Henry299657
Hale290483
Cherokee286752
Fayette276473
Washington245048
Crenshaw236768
Clay226264
Cleburne225750
Macon218057
Lamar192541
Conecuh180146
Lowndes170758
Coosa167533
Wilcox159636
Bullock148642
Perry136336
Sumter124136
Greene120542
Choctaw73326
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Fall has started off exactly as you would have anticipated and it looks like we should have a number of dry days still ahead, but this isn’t a permanent switch, because heat is pegged to return.
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