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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.

Cases: 265146

Reported Deaths: 5777
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto17741191
Hinds16891332
Harrison14279204
Rankin11239220
Jackson10917190
Lee9071145
Madison8599169
Jones6731118
Forrest6208124
Lauderdale6121192
Lowndes5544120
Lafayette520598
Lamar505865
Washington4933125
Bolivar4126109
Oktibbeha408382
Panola386981
Pontotoc377460
Monroe3686110
Warren3685103
Marshall357170
Union356864
Pearl River3495106
Neshoba3490154
Leflore3118109
Lincoln306788
Hancock294262
Sunflower291975
Tate280662
Alcorn273154
Pike270181
Itawamba269363
Scott260048
Yazoo256756
Prentiss253754
Coahoma249755
Copiah249749
Tippah249750
Simpson242872
Leake238167
Marion224273
Grenada223972
Covington221073
Adams215171
Wayne213734
Winston207671
George204739
Newton199946
Attala197064
Tishomingo194961
Chickasaw189344
Jasper181138
Holmes172068
Clay166837
Tallahatchie157235
Stone152525
Clarke148162
Calhoun141322
Smith130026
Yalobusha123335
Walthall114537
Greene113729
Noxubee113026
Montgomery112036
Carroll106822
Lawrence106817
Perry105131
Amite102126
Webster96824
Tunica89021
Claiborne88825
Jefferson Davis88430
Benton85823
Humphreys84724
Kemper80920
Quitman7139
Franklin70617
Choctaw63713
Wilkinson59825
Jefferson56821
Sharkey45217
Issaquena1606
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 441170

Reported Deaths: 6660
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson646811007
Mobile31620572
Madison28310217
Tuscaloosa21525275
Montgomery19954332
Shelby19335132
Baldwin17256189
Lee13205107
Morgan12639142
Etowah12107181
Calhoun11521206
Marshall10471123
Houston9009164
Limestone834981
Cullman8274124
Elmore8214110
DeKalb7894107
Lauderdale7871107
St. Clair7854130
Talladega6481112
Walker6036183
Jackson601545
Colbert549994
Blount547386
Autauga537662
Coffee462464
Dale410785
Franklin374950
Russell357515
Chilton345473
Covington339680
Escambia335444
Tallapoosa3149109
Dallas313296
Chambers304270
Clarke300236
Pike262531
Lawrence254155
Marion253761
Winston233642
Bibb222348
Geneva211547
Marengo209331
Pickens199631
Hale185244
Barbour182738
Fayette178629
Butler174460
Cherokee165731
Henry159925
Monroe152421
Randolph146436
Washington142327
Clay130546
Crenshaw124045
Macon122337
Cleburne121825
Lamar120222
Lowndes115536
Wilcox107922
Bullock103528
Perry100018
Conecuh97922
Sumter90527
Greene77923
Coosa63618
Choctaw51924
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