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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: 292811

Reported Deaths: 6613
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto19515228
Hinds18611385
Harrison16431275
Rankin12543261
Jackson12419216
Lee9641160
Madison9378194
Jones7857145
Forrest7094136
Lauderdale6760225
Lowndes5998137
Lamar581180
Lafayette5698113
Washington5135128
Bolivar4580120
Oktibbeha438691
Panola424992
Warren4101113
Pearl River4083128
Pontotoc406668
Marshall398392
Monroe3977126
Union392173
Neshoba3758166
Lincoln3447100
Hancock338673
Leflore3349118
Sunflower316685
Tate299874
Pike298293
Scott291867
Alcorn289660
Itawamba288571
Yazoo283262
Tippah275465
Copiah273957
Coahoma272666
Simpson270778
Prentiss267658
Leake251370
Wayne250540
Marion249878
Covington247178
Grenada244676
Adams232877
George229845
Newton223151
Winston220274
Tishomingo211465
Jasper211244
Attala205969
Chickasaw200550
Holmes181470
Clay177848
Stone171129
Tallahatchie169239
Clarke168271
Calhoun155527
Smith151531
Yalobusha142236
Greene126533
Walthall123340
Noxubee122629
Perry120934
Montgomery120537
Lawrence119021
Carroll117223
Amite110732
Webster109229
Jefferson Davis99931
Tunica98023
Claiborne97329
Benton92524
Humphreys91326
Kemper89422
Quitman76614
Franklin75419
Choctaw69416
Wilkinson62226
Jefferson61027
Sharkey48817
Issaquena1676
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 490220

Reported Deaths: 9744
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson704661342
Mobile35810721
Madison32203443
Tuscaloosa23961409
Montgomery22417489
Shelby21773211
Baldwin19635272
Lee14883147
Morgan13571248
Etowah13118312
Calhoun13090283
Marshall11212203
Houston10036257
Limestone9321133
Elmore9313179
Cullman8864177
St. Clair8771220
Lauderdale8570210
DeKalb8419173
Talladega7450162
Walker6492249
Jackson6466102
Autauga617285
Blount6072125
Colbert5978118
Coffee5229100
Dale4614106
Russell401431
Franklin397675
Covington3948105
Chilton383196
Escambia376670
Tallapoosa3559139
Clarke342749
Dallas3396140
Chambers3393103
Pike292771
Lawrence281284
Marion280793
Winston245665
Bibb243759
Marengo238554
Geneva238468
Pickens223554
Barbour209550
Hale208464
Fayette199356
Butler195165
Henry182341
Cherokee176338
Monroe165638
Randolph162740
Washington156233
Crenshaw143353
Clay143254
Macon140543
Cleburne136539
Lamar131632
Lowndes130148
Wilcox120825
Bullock116534
Conecuh106523
Perry105327
Sumter98231
Coosa86823
Greene86732
Choctaw54723
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