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: 96032

Reported Deaths: 2894
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds7110159
DeSoto556559
Harrison385374
Jackson348670
Madison329788
Rankin329377
Lee271468
Forrest247872
Jones247579
Washington223872
Lafayette217339
Lauderdale2049125
Bolivar184066
Oktibbeha177850
Lamar170035
Lowndes156958
Neshoba1566104
Panola147129
Sunflower146546
Warren140550
Leflore140481
Pontotoc126616
Pike123451
Monroe122868
Copiah118433
Scott117427
Coahoma115528
Holmes109659
Marshall109517
Lincoln109053
Grenada108336
Yazoo105930
Simpson103346
Union99724
Tate98737
Leake95338
Adams93837
Wayne90021
Pearl River88353
Marion85935
Prentiss85517
Covington82022
Itawamba81521
Alcorn80311
George77113
Newton77024
Tallahatchie77021
Winston73819
Tishomingo68238
Chickasaw67924
Tippah66917
Attala65925
Walthall60026
Clay59218
Clarke58746
Hancock58222
Jasper57315
Noxubee54816
Smith53215
Calhoun51512
Tunica48615
Claiborne46316
Montgomery46120
Lawrence43313
Yalobusha43314
Perry42319
Humphreys37715
Greene37517
Quitman3735
Stone37112
Jefferson Davis34111
Webster33813
Amite32910
Carroll31612
Wilkinson30518
Kemper28915
Sharkey26613
Jefferson2439
Benton2263
Franklin1923
Choctaw1856
Issaquena1043
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 134231

Reported Deaths: 2357
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson19572348
Mobile13320292
Montgomery8811183
Tuscaloosa8586117
Madison782078
Shelby592349
Lee588759
Baldwin545650
Marshall393343
Calhoun349942
Etowah343945
Morgan327328
Houston280221
Elmore265947
DeKalb240620
St. Clair230835
Walker230683
Talladega214628
Limestone208820
Cullman189020
Dallas178326
Franklin176729
Autauga175725
Russell17573
Lauderdale169833
Colbert164126
Blount160815
Escambia160324
Chilton156431
Jackson156011
Covington138527
Dale135844
Coffee13206
Pike119410
Chambers116142
Tallapoosa115685
Clarke108916
Marion95729
Butler91639
Barbour8737
Winston73812
Marengo71620
Pickens65614
Lowndes65327
Bibb65210
Randolph64213
Hale63428
Lawrence61623
Geneva6074
Cherokee60313
Bullock59914
Monroe5848
Clay5797
Washington55613
Perry5416
Crenshaw53632
Conecuh53511
Wilcox53111
Henry4935
Macon48119
Fayette4508
Sumter43519
Lamar3662
Cleburne3646
Choctaw34912
Greene30315
Coosa1683
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