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: 148387

Reported Deaths: 3769
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto9953104
Hinds9892198
Harrison7045110
Jackson6270119
Rankin5462102
Lee501095
Madison4734106
Forrest380586
Jones354888
Lauderdale3425145
Lafayette321549
Washington3161107
Lamar289250
Oktibbeha244362
Bolivar240984
Lowndes234164
Panola219850
Neshoba2196118
Marshall213850
Leflore204790
Pontotoc199228
Monroe197377
Sunflower191655
Lincoln188765
Warren175357
Tate168051
Union166025
Copiah163040
Pike161658
Yazoo154239
Scott152129
Itawamba151534
Pearl River150867
Coahoma150143
Alcorn149628
Simpson146753
Prentiss144230
Adams141150
Grenada140645
Leake133543
Holmes129961
George124524
Tippah124530
Covington122238
Winston121624
Hancock120239
Wayne117223
Marion115846
Attala112234
Tishomingo108942
Chickasaw107132
Newton104229
Tallahatchie96827
Clay90327
Clarke89353
Jasper82022
Walthall76328
Stone76114
Calhoun73913
Montgomery73625
Carroll72115
Lawrence70814
Noxubee70617
Yalobusha70627
Smith70516
Perry66126
Tunica60619
Greene60022
Claiborne58316
Jefferson Davis56517
Amite53114
Humphreys53119
Benton49117
Quitman4897
Webster43414
Kemper42518
Wilkinson39422
Jefferson34811
Franklin3365
Choctaw3237
Sharkey30917
Issaquena1144
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 242874

Reported Deaths: 3572
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson31944500
Mobile19687361
Madison13065148
Tuscaloosa12983154
Montgomery12286236
Shelby1020377
Baldwin860398
Lee773566
Morgan653850
Calhoun6240119
Marshall621355
Etowah621066
Houston523038
DeKalb481336
Cullman435442
Limestone420645
St. Clair415855
Elmore404564
Lauderdale400454
Walker3634111
Talladega349054
Jackson313423
Colbert309342
Blount288840
Autauga271642
Franklin251033
Coffee242615
Dale231854
Dallas225932
Chilton221938
Russell22143
Covington218534
Escambia197931
Chambers176550
Tallapoosa175791
Pike158314
Clarke158019
Marion137936
Winston132323
Lawrence127336
Pickens122318
Geneva12138
Marengo121024
Bibb117317
Barbour117110
Butler115341
Randolph102021
Cherokee101524
Hale96131
Clay91124
Washington90919
Fayette89816
Henry8526
Lowndes79529
Monroe78711
Cleburne77114
Macon73122
Crenshaw71130
Bullock69419
Conecuh68414
Perry6846
Lamar6718
Wilcox63218
Sumter57722
Greene42418
Choctaw42113
Coosa3414
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