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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: 497790

Reported Deaths: 9917
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison34102530
DeSoto31839398
Hinds31837622
Jackson24314377
Rankin21881388
Lee15427234
Madison14525279
Jones13772241
Forrest13412250
Lauderdale11937314
Lowndes10934185
Lamar10470135
Pearl River9431237
Lafayette8454138
Hancock7697126
Washington7365156
Oktibbeha7111129
Monroe6727174
Warren6642176
Pontotoc6609101
Neshoba6606205
Panola6460131
Marshall6386132
Bolivar6266145
Union596094
Pike5784152
Alcorn5633101
Lincoln5417134
George491879
Scott470998
Tippah465381
Prentiss464181
Leflore4627143
Itawamba4596104
Adams4570119
Tate4546109
Copiah445191
Simpson4421116
Wayne438572
Yazoo438586
Covington427394
Marion4216107
Sunflower4215104
Coahoma4115104
Leake407787
Newton380879
Grenada3692108
Stone358464
Tishomingo356391
Attala330289
Jasper328265
Winston313191
Clay306375
Chickasaw296767
Clarke290694
Calhoun277945
Holmes266987
Smith262550
Yalobusha232647
Tallahatchie225251
Walthall217763
Greene215548
Lawrence211140
Perry204755
Amite203954
Webster201645
Noxubee185340
Montgomery179056
Jefferson Davis170642
Carroll167438
Tunica158639
Benton147438
Kemper141241
Choctaw133026
Claiborne131237
Humphreys129038
Franklin119128
Quitman106227
Wilkinson104539
Jefferson94234
Sharkey64020
Issaquena1937
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 813481

Reported Deaths: 15179
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1139971910
Mobile722271323
Madison51970686
Shelby37279341
Baldwin37069540
Tuscaloosa34934599
Montgomery33953725
Lee23142240
Calhoun22142470
Morgan20639372
Etowah19758496
Marshall18245300
Houston17302405
St. Clair15912337
Cullman15306290
Limestone15202198
Elmore15075284
Lauderdale14143294
Talladega13715272
DeKalb12569259
Walker11085366
Blount10094174
Autauga9893146
Jackson9789180
Coffee9182189
Dale8859181
Colbert8789200
Tallapoosa7044195
Escambia6732127
Covington6682179
Chilton6587160
Russell625958
Franklin5930105
Chambers5559142
Marion4955126
Dallas4882199
Clarke472782
Pike4719105
Geneva4564126
Winston4473101
Lawrence4264117
Bibb421686
Barbour355475
Marengo334089
Monroe330262
Randolph327063
Butler324794
Pickens313882
Henry310965
Hale309187
Cherokee299957
Fayette290679
Washington250951
Cleburne246958
Crenshaw243575
Clay240367
Macon230562
Lamar215846
Conecuh185652
Coosa178538
Lowndes173761
Wilcox167438
Bullock151744
Perry138040
Sumter131038
Greene125544
Choctaw86927
Out of AL00
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Tupelo
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Hi: 72° Lo: 44°
Feels Like: 41°
Columbus
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Hi: 72° Lo: 46°
Feels Like: 44°
Oxford
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Hi: 70° Lo: 41°
Feels Like: 39°
Starkville
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Hi: 71° Lo: 45°
Feels Like: 45°
A cold front passing through our area overnight will bring into our area some of the coolest temperatures of the season so far. We will see most of the highs this weekend only in the upper 60s to lower 70s. While overnight lows will drop off down into the 40s Saturday night.
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