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: 148387

Reported Deaths: 3769
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto9874101
Hinds9821198
Harrison6982110
Jackson6218119
Rankin5417102
Lee498495
Madison4711106
Forrest375086
Jones352488
Lauderdale3412145
Lafayette319749
Washington3153107
Lamar286349
Oktibbeha243562
Bolivar240884
Lowndes232864
Neshoba2189118
Panola218849
Marshall211950
Leflore203490
Pontotoc199128
Monroe196077
Sunflower191055
Lincoln187865
Warren174157
Tate166951
Union165325
Pike160958
Copiah160440
Yazoo152939
Scott151829
Itawamba151134
Coahoma149543
Pearl River149467
Alcorn148228
Simpson146353
Prentiss143730
Adams139250
Grenada138845
Leake133243
Holmes127861
Tippah123730
George123524
Covington120938
Winston120024
Hancock117639
Wayne116923
Marion114846
Attala111234
Tishomingo108742
Chickasaw106932
Newton104229
Tallahatchie96727
Clay89927
Clarke89153
Jasper81722
Walthall76028
Stone75214
Calhoun73713
Montgomery72825
Carroll71415
Lawrence70714
Yalobusha70527
Smith70316
Noxubee70017
Perry65826
Tunica60219
Greene59722
Claiborne57916
Jefferson Davis56017
Humphreys53119
Amite52714
Benton49017
Quitman4846
Webster42314
Kemper42118
Wilkinson38722
Jefferson34711
Franklin3345
Choctaw3157
Sharkey30817
Issaquena1144
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 241957

Reported Deaths: 3572
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson31809500
Mobile19651361
Madison12964148
Tuscaloosa12946154
Montgomery12263236
Shelby1016177
Baldwin857698
Lee771866
Morgan648050
Calhoun6215119
Etowah618266
Marshall618255
Houston522438
DeKalb480436
Cullman433442
Limestone418645
St. Clair413655
Elmore403764
Lauderdale396754
Walker3620111
Talladega347954
Jackson311723
Colbert306042
Blount287940
Autauga270442
Franklin250233
Coffee242015
Dale231754
Dallas225232
Russell22123
Chilton220638
Covington218034
Escambia197931
Chambers176450
Tallapoosa175491
Pike158114
Clarke157619
Marion137136
Winston131123
Lawrence126336
Pickens121618
Geneva12108
Marengo120224
Barbour117010
Bibb117017
Butler115341
Randolph101921
Cherokee101024
Hale96031
Clay91024
Washington90719
Fayette89316
Henry8526
Lowndes79429
Monroe78311
Cleburne76914
Macon73022
Crenshaw70930
Bullock69419
Conecuh68314
Perry6836
Lamar6678
Wilcox63118
Sumter57522
Greene42318
Choctaw42113
Coosa3414
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