Judge won't block Mississippi's Jim Crow-era election system

A federal judge ruled Friday that he will not immediately block Mississippi's unique, multistep process for electing a governor and other statewide officials, which was enacted at a time of Jim Crow segregation to maintain white rule.

Posted: Nov 1, 2019 4:06 PM

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A federal judge ruled Friday that he will not immediately block Mississippi's unique, multistep process for electing a governor and other statewide officials, which was enacted at a time of Jim Crow segregation to maintain white rule.

U.S. District Judge Daniel P. Jordan III said he would not issue a preliminary injunction to prevent the system from being used in Tuesday's elections. However, he left open the possibility of further considering the case later.

Mississippi's 1890 constitution requires a statewide candidate to win a majority of the popular vote and a majority of the 122 state House districts. If nobody wins both, the election is decided by the House, and representatives are not obligated to vote as their districts did.

The process was written when white politicians across the South were enacting laws to erase black political power gained during Reconstruction, and 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 who sued the state this year have argued that the system unconstitutionally violates the principle of one person, one vote.

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 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 raised concerns about the timing of the case, noting that Mississippi's election laws "are not merely statutes that can be revised in one legislative session; they are constitutional provisions that require amendment."

"That process cannot occur before the November 2019 votes are counted or within a short time after the election. Indeed, it was already too late when this suit was filed," Jordan wrote. "But based on Plaintiffs' argument during the hearing, it appears the process could be attempted before the next statewide election cycle. If not, then by that time there would presumably have been a trial on the merits, and the Court could craft its own 'remedial plan' if necessary."

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.

Jordan wrote he has "grave concern that at least the Electoral-Vote rule is unconstitutional."

One of the plaintiffs' attorneys, Rob McDuff of the Mississippi Center for Justice, also noted that Jordan said the electoral vote rule eventually could cause "irreparable harm."

"If the electoral vote rule is triggered this time around and puts the House of Representatives in a position to decide the election, it is possible the judge would declare it unconstitutional and require that the candidate with the most (popular) votes be declared the winner," McDuff said.

Jordan wrote Friday that he would issue a separate order on state officials' request that he dismiss the lawsuit.

No other state in the U.S. uses such a method to choose governor, and it's rare for a race to be decided by the Mississippi House. That last happened in 1999, when nobody received the required majorities in a four-person race for governor. The top two candidates were white, and each won 61 electoral votes. House members chose the Democrat who had received the most votes. At the time, the House was controlled by Democrats. It is now controlled by Republicans.

The two major-party nominees for governor this year are Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood. Both are white, but Democrats generally fare well among black voters and Republicans among white ones.

The lawsuit was filed May 30 against two Republican officials — Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, who is Mississippi's top elections officer, and House Speaker Philip Gunn, who would preside if there's a House vote to decide a statewide race.

Eric Holder, who was the first African American to serve as U.S. attorney general, is now chairman of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, whose affiliated foundation is providing financial and legal backing for the lawsuit.

When Jordan heard arguments Oct. 11, he said few federal court rulings have provided clear guidance for how he should decide the case and whether a constitutional violation would occur when voters cast ballots or at some point later in the process.

Jordan raised questions about the timing of the case that challenges a system in place nearly 130 years, and he said courts are "generally ill-equipped" to decide what kind of voting laws a state should have.

"No matter what I do, I would encourage the other side to appeal immediately," Jordan said during the Oct. 11 hearing.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 59881

Reported Deaths: 1693
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds5176106
DeSoto321527
Madison227253
Rankin211128
Harrison206732
Jackson187434
Jones174057
Forrest161551
Washington145732
Lauderdale132188
Lee119430
Neshoba119087
Lamar110512
Oktibbeha104434
Warren96425
Lowndes95830
Scott95117
Bolivar93332
Copiah90323
Sunflower90322
Panola89611
Lafayette8619
Holmes83546
Leflore82759
Pike81932
Grenada80520
Yazoo76411
Leake76225
Lincoln73539
Wayne73121
Pontotoc7167
Simpson70726
Monroe68750
Coahoma64810
Tate63822
Marion59418
Adams57825
Covington57611
Winston56615
Marshall5568
George5395
Newton51411
Union51313
Attala49524
Pearl River48036
Tallahatchie44610
Walthall43918
Chickasaw42719
Noxubee41410
Claiborne39913
Smith37413
Calhoun3738
Jasper3738
Clay36414
Alcorn3494
Prentiss3316
Hancock32414
Yalobusha31210
Lawrence3075
Itawamba30610
Tishomingo3063
Clarke29725
Tippah29412
Montgomery2913
Humphreys26511
Tunica2526
Carroll24511
Greene22611
Kemper22315
Quitman2201
Perry2137
Amite2045
Jefferson Davis1966
Webster19512
Jefferson1916
Wilkinson18312
Sharkey1801
Stone1463
Choctaw1254
Benton1240
Franklin1112
Issaquena211
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 85278

Reported Deaths: 1531
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson11465225
Mobile8466188
Montgomery6093141
Madison481725
Tuscaloosa385161
Baldwin309521
Shelby295431
Marshall287830
Unassigned256950
Lee245540
Morgan215614
Etowah188424
DeKalb165011
Elmore156237
Walker145063
Calhoun14389
Houston127512
Dallas126523
Russell11851
St. Clair116911
Franklin116520
Limestone115512
Cullman109011
Colbert105011
Lauderdale102812
Autauga98820
Escambia95215
Talladega86213
Chambers80738
Tallapoosa80178
Jackson7833
Dale76318
Butler74335
Blount7043
Coffee6955
Covington68420
Chilton6735
Pike6447
Barbour5545
Lowndes54524
Marion52824
Marengo50614
Clarke4799
Hale44825
Bullock43611
Winston42610
Perry4193
Wilcox4009
Randolph38610
Monroe3853
Conecuh36310
Sumter36118
Bibb3602
Pickens3599
Macon30412
Washington30411
Lawrence2980
Crenshaw2793
Choctaw27112
Greene23911
Henry2383
Cherokee2227
Geneva2160
Clay2005
Lamar1912
Fayette1675
Cleburne1121
Coosa892
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