JACKSON, Miss. —
Mississippi just ditched its Confederate-themed state flag. Later this year, the state’s voters will decide whether to dump a statewide election process that dates to the Jim Crow era.

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

The amendment would simplify elections for governor and other statewide officials by erasing 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 politics.

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

If voters adopt the amendment, a statewide candidate receiving a majority of the popular vote would win. If nobody receives that in a race with at least three candidates, the top two would go to a runoff.

Legislators’ final action to put the amendment on the ballot happened Monday, a day after they took historic votes to retire a 126-year-old state flag that was the last in the U.S. with the Confederate battle emblem. Amid widespread protests over racial injustice, Mississippi faced growing pressure to drop a symbol that’s widely condemned as racist.

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 Nov. 3, the same day the amendment and the presidential race are on the ballot.

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

“As you go back through these documents, there’s language that clearly shows intent to circumvent the rights of African Americans,” Wade said Thursday.

About 38% of Mississippi’s residents are Black. The lawsuit — backed by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder — argues that Mississippi’s election system violates the principle of one-person, one-vote.

The Mississippi Constitution currently requires a statewide candidate to win a majority of the popular vote and a majority of electoral vote. One electoral vote is awarded to the candidate receiving the most support in each of the 122 state House districts.

If no candidate wins both the popular vote and the electoral vote, the race is decided by the state House. But representatives are not obligated to vote as their districts did, so arm-twisting could decide the outcome.

The process was written when white politicians across the South were enacting laws to erase Black political power gained during Reconstruction. The electoral vote was promoted as a way for the white ruling class have the final say in who holds office.

Plaintiffs argued that 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.

U.S. District Judge Daniel P. Jordan III wrote last November that he has “grave concern” about the constitutionality the electoral vote provision. Jordan wrote that the plaintiffs’ argument about violation of one person, one vote is “arguably … their strongest claim.”

Jordan put the lawsuit on hold in December, saying he would give legislators a chance to remedy the system by putting a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot. The amendment will need approval from a simple majority of voters.

The last time a governor’s race was thrown to the Mississippi House was 20 years ago. Nobody 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 chose 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 the electoral provision might come into play in a tight 2019 governor’s election, but Republican Tate Reeves easily defeated Democrat Jim Hood and two lesser-known candidates.

————

Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter: http://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You May Also Like

Trump’s approval rating stays unchanged

Donald Trump’s presidency is a roller coaster everywhere except in his approval rating. There have been ups (the economy, the killing of an ISIS leader) and there have been downs (the Mueller investigation and impeachment inquiry, to start) in his…

DNC convention speakers: What to know about Gretchen Whitmer

Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has called Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who was on the former vice president’s shortlist of potential running mates, one of the most talented people in the country. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer will be on a slate…

Big South Carolina win gives Joe Biden campaign new life; Super Tuesday showdown awaits

COLUMBIA, S.C. (Reuters) – An outpouring of black voter support propelled Joe Biden to a convincing victory in South Carolina’s Democratic primary on Saturday, resurrecting his faltering White House bid and giving the former vice president a chance to claim…

Does Facebook nuking ‘Stop the Steal’ posts make it harder to track riot organizers?

Fox News contributor Katie Pavlich reacts to leaders from around the globe condemning Big Tech’s censorship of President Trump. Social media giant Facebook said earlier this week that it will remove all content containing the phrase “stop the steal” in…