Mississippi Could Drop Jim Crow-era State Voting Process

Mississippi just abandoned its Confederate-themed state flag

JACKSON, Miss. – Mississippi has just abandoned its Confederate themed state flag. Later this year, state voters will decide whether to ditch a state election process that dates back to the Jim Crow era.

Under pressure from a lawsuit and the possibility of action by a federal judge, lawmakers are putting a state constitutional amendment on the ballot in November.

The amendment would simplify elections for the governor and other state officials by deleting an Electoral College-type provision from Mississippi’s 1890 constitution, one that was written to dilute black voting power and maintain white control of state policy.

Mississippi is the only state with such a system for state elections.

If voters adopt the amendment, a state candidate who receives the majority of the popular vote would win. If no one receives that in a race with at least three candidates, the first two would go to a second round.

The final action by lawmakers to put the amendment on the ballot occurred on Monday, the day after they obtained historic votes to remove a 126-year-old state flag that was the last in the United States with the emblem of the Confederate battle. Amid widespread protests over racial injustice, Mississippi faced mounting pressure to drop a widely condemned racist symbol.

A commission will design a new Mississippi flag without the rebel symbol and with the phrase “In God We Trust”. Voters will be asked to accept or reject the new flag on November 3, the same day the amendment and the presidential race are on the ballot.

The Mississippi Justice Center is one of the groups representing plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the state in 2019. The center’s president, Vangela M. Wade, said the documents show that the complex electoral process was created to defend the white supremacy.

“In reviewing these documents, there is language that clearly shows the intention to circumvent the rights of African Americans,” Wade said Thursday.

About 38% of Mississippi residents are black. The lawsuit, backed by former United States Attorney General Eric Holder, argues that the Mississippi electoral system violates the one person, one vote principle.

The Mississippi Constitution currently requires that a state candidate win the majority of the popular vote and the majority of the electoral vote. An electoral vote is given to the candidate who receives the most support in each of the 122 state districts of the House.

If no candidate wins both the popular vote and the electoral vote, the race is decided by the State Chamber. But representatives are not required to vote as their districts did, so the act of twisting your arms could decide the outcome.

The process was written when white politicians from across the South enacted laws to erase the black political power gained during Reconstruction. The electoral vote was promoted as a way for the white ruling class to have the last word on who holds office.

The plaintiffs argued that Mississippi’s racially polarized voting history means that candidates preferred by black voters must receive a greater share of the state vote to win the majority of House districts.

United States District Judge Daniel P. Jordan III wrote last November that he is “very concerned” about the constitutionality of the electoral voting provision. Jordan wrote that the plaintiffs’ argument about raping a person, a vote is “possibly … their strongest claim.”

Jordan put the lawsuit on hold in December, saying it would give lawmakers an opportunity to remedy the system by putting a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot. The amendment will require the approval of a simple majority of voters.

The last time a governor’s career was launched at the Mississippi House was 20 years ago. No one received the required majorities in a four-person race for governor in 1999. The top two candidates were white, and each won 61 electoral votes. In January 2000, House members elected Democrat Ronnie Musgrove, who led the popular vote, over Republican Mike Parker. At the time, the House was controlled by Democrats. It is now controlled by Republicans.

Some Democrats thought that the electoral provision could come into play in a tight 2019 governor’s election, but Republican Tate Reeves easily defeated Democrat Jim Hood and two lesser-known candidates.


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