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Mississippi: Election lawsuit is not about voting rights

Mississippi State Capitol in Jackson

Attorneys defending Mississippi say a lawsuit that challenges the state's system of choosing a governor is about "partisan politics," not about protecting African Americans' voting rights.

Posted: Jul 16, 2019 10:27 PM

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Attorneys defending Mississippi say a lawsuit that challenges the state's system of choosing a governor is about "partisan politics," not about protecting African Americans' voting rights.

The election-year lawsuit was filed May 30 in federal court by four black plaintiffs with backing from Eric Holder, who was the first African American U.S. attorney general and is now chairman of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee.

It says a provision in Mississippi's 1890 constitution "has its basis in racism," requiring candidates for governor or other statewide offices to win a majority of the popular vote and a majority of the 122 Mississippi House districts. Without both majorities, the election is decided by the state House.

The provision was written at a time that white politicians across the South were enacting Jim Crow laws to erase black political power that had been gained during Reconstruction. No other state in the U.S. uses such a method to choose governor.

The 1999 governor's race was decided by the House after nobody received the required majorities in a four-person race. The top two candidates were white, and House members chose the Democrat who had received the most votes. The House was then controlled by Democrats and is now controlled by Republicans.

The lawsuit names Mississippi House Speaker Philip Gunn and the state's top elections official, Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, as defendants. Both are Republican.

"Neither the speaker nor the secretary wish to defend the motivations behind a law allegedly enacted with racial animus," Trey Jones, a private attorney representing the state, wrote in court papers filed Monday. "However, both the allegations in the complaint and the timing of its filing demonstrate that this lawsuit is not about race, and it is not about vindicating alleged wrongs to plaintiffs' right to vote — it's about partisan politics."

Jones wrote that decisions about Mississippi's voting system should be made by the state, not by a federal court. He also wrote that Gunn and Hosemann should not be sued. He said Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood should instead be named a defendant because "he has a number of duties relevant to constitutional challenges."

Hood is running for governor this year and is not representing the state in the lawsuit. If he wins the party nomination during the August primary, he would be on the November general election ballot and his campaign could be affected by the outcome of the lawsuit.

A spokeswoman for the attorney general's office, Margaret Ann Morgan, has said the office would not answer questions about the lawsuit because of "attorney/client privilege." She has not answered the question about whether the attorney general's office is not handling the case because of Hood's candidacy.

The current governor, Republican Phil Bryant, could not seek a third term. Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and Hood have raised the most money in the governor's race.

The lawsuit notes that black voters are highly concentrated in certain Mississippi House districts and constitute a majority of the voting-age population in 42 of them. Mississippi's white residents overwhelmingly vote Republican, while its black residents overwhelmingly cast their ballots for Democrats. About 38% of the state is black.

Because of the racially polarized and concentrated voting, a candidate preferred by white voters could win a majority of the House districts without winning the statewide vote, the lawsuit says. It asserts that a candidate preferred by black voters would have to get more than 55% of the popular vote to meet the House-district requirement.

To date, no Mississippi candidate who won the most votes for a statewide office has been prevented from taking office because of the other requirements.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 16560

Reported Deaths: 794
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds106626
Lauderdale76068
Madison75727
Neshoba72244
Jones68632
Scott66212
Forrest59239
DeSoto5598
Leake45412
Rankin4538
Holmes44130
Copiah3254
Jackson30914
Attala30718
Yazoo2914
Newton2834
Lincoln27829
Leflore27336
Oktibbeha26714
Monroe26725
Harrison2657
Lamar2485
Lowndes2419
Wayne2353
Pearl River21231
Pike20511
Adams20216
Washington1947
Noxubee1936
Warren19110
Lee1857
Covington1772
Jasper1664
Bolivar16611
Clarke15519
Smith15311
Lafayette1504
Kemper14911
Chickasaw14014
Coahoma1284
Winston1221
Clay1184
Carroll11611
Marion1169
Claiborne1145
Lawrence1081
Simpson1040
Grenada1003
Yalobusha976
Sunflower933
Itawamba907
Hancock9012
Tate881
Union867
Montgomery861
Panola853
Marshall853
Wilkinson859
Jefferson Davis813
Tippah7611
Webster673
Calhoun674
Amite651
Walthall630
Humphreys607
Tunica563
Prentiss533
Perry513
Choctaw482
Pontotoc453
Jefferson421
Tishomingo350
Greene331
Stone320
Quitman310
Tallahatchie301
Franklin292
George281
Alcorn191
Benton140
Sharkey70
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 18766

Reported Deaths: 651
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Mobile2284118
Jefferson1884103
Montgomery182343
Tuscaloosa82216
Marshall7059
Franklin5788
Lee55834
Shelby52220
Tallapoosa43266
Butler41918
Walker3812
Elmore3729
Chambers35926
Madison3464
Morgan2981
Unassigned2972
Baldwin2929
Dallas2873
Etowah26212
Lowndes25912
DeKalb2573
Autauga2395
Coffee2391
Sumter2287
Houston2265
Bullock2156
Pike2080
Colbert1872
Hale1799
Russell1770
Barbour1771
Marengo1746
Lauderdale1692
Calhoun1653
Wilcox1547
Choctaw15310
Cullman1501
Clarke1492
St. Clair1311
Randolph1287
Marion12411
Dale1230
Pickens1215
Talladega1175
Limestone1080
Chilton1051
Greene954
Winston910
Macon874
Jackson833
Henry812
Covington811
Crenshaw783
Bibb761
Escambia753
Washington726
Blount631
Lawrence510
Monroe452
Geneva440
Perry420
Conecuh411
Coosa401
Cherokee383
Clay282
Lamar260
Fayette160
Cleburne151
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