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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.

Cases: 268672

Reported Deaths: 5917
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto18020198
Hinds17192342
Harrison14654214
Rankin11404225
Jackson11146194
Lee9160149
Madison8736173
Jones6934120
Forrest6324126
Lauderdale6212198
Lowndes5623124
Lafayette5295102
Lamar515565
Washington4984125
Bolivar4187111
Oktibbeha413686
Panola390784
Pontotoc383461
Warren3766103
Monroe3746112
Marshall362273
Union361966
Pearl River3578107
Neshoba3528160
Leflore3148110
Lincoln311489
Hancock304263
Sunflower296079
Tate282964
Alcorn276257
Pike275985
Itawamba272665
Scott268055
Yazoo259956
Prentiss257255
Copiah254649
Coahoma253656
Tippah252652
Simpson246072
Leake239367
Marion230774
Covington226173
Grenada225874
Wayne219337
Adams218172
George211041
Winston208971
Newton202748
Attala198265
Tishomingo197861
Chickasaw191546
Jasper185839
Holmes173268
Clay169538
Tallahatchie158835
Stone154727
Clarke151062
Calhoun143122
Smith134226
Yalobusha125435
Walthall116638
Greene115930
Noxubee114726
Montgomery113136
Lawrence109317
Carroll107722
Perry106431
Amite103829
Webster99024
Claiborne90426
Jefferson Davis90231
Tunica89722
Benton87423
Humphreys86225
Kemper81820
Quitman71611
Franklin71517
Choctaw64914
Wilkinson60325
Jefferson57521
Sharkey45917
Issaquena1616
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 449086

Reported Deaths: 7172
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson656061094
Mobile32260595
Madison28795237
Tuscaloosa21859277
Montgomery20388348
Shelby19707139
Baldwin17629217
Lee13482112
Morgan12795154
Etowah12265213
Calhoun11730228
Marshall10543133
Houston9221182
Limestone849485
Cullman8412143
Elmore8379123
Lauderdale8049121
DeKalb7985122
St. Clair7985144
Talladega6637114
Jackson611557
Walker6078185
Colbert5650104
Blount556895
Autauga549967
Coffee473471
Dale418692
Franklin380153
Russell364216
Chilton351379
Covington347986
Escambia343446
Tallapoosa3228111
Dallas3164105
Chambers313775
Clarke311139
Pike269435
Lawrence259759
Marion256667
Winston236443
Bibb226151
Geneva217151
Marengo213332
Pickens203031
Barbour189840
Hale189748
Fayette183534
Butler176660
Cherokee167333
Henry162229
Monroe154221
Randolph149536
Washington144727
Clay131650
Crenshaw127048
Macon124638
Cleburne124128
Lamar122024
Lowndes118637
Wilcox110022
Bullock107429
Perry100819
Conecuh99123
Sumter91228
Greene78624
Coosa66119
Choctaw52424
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