A referendum on the November ballot in Mississippi seeks to remove a Jim Crow- Era law historians say was designed to prevent Blacks from holding statewide office.
The Mississippi Constitution of 1890requires that candidates for statewide office win a majority of the popular vote. And they must also win the majority of the state’s 122 House Districts. Otherwise the State House of Representatives decides who wins. Robert Luckett is Associate Professor of History at Jackson State University.
“I think most people don’t know that it’s possible for someone running for Governor or Lt. Governor, to win the majority of the vote in this state but then not be elected because of this requirement; like you have to have the majority of the electoral college votes in order to win the presidency, in Mississippi you have to win the majority of House districts,” said Luckett.
"It’s definitely time to bring that part of our state constitution into the 21st Century..."
Mississippi is the only state with this two-tier provision. House Concurrent Resolution 47 would change that. Put simply, the candidate who has more than 50 percent of the vote wins the election. If no candidate achieves that, there’s a run-off between the top two vote getters. Robert Luckett.
“It’s definitely time to bring that part of our state constitution into the 21st Century and kinda reject the history of Jim Crow that necessitated its creation to begin with,” said Luckett.
Leslie-Burl McLemore, Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Jackson State University explains the current process was put in place to prevent Blacks from winning statewide office after Reconstruction. He says the provision was part of the Mississippi Plan, a strategy to disenfranchise Blacks.
“You may recall until 1940, Mississippi was a black majority state. There was this fear that Blacks would take over power or the White powers that be didn’t want to share power,” said McLemore.
Blacks who’ve run for statewide office haven’t garnered enough votes in elections to go through the process. The provision was used in 1999, in a tight race for governor between Democrat Ronnie Musgrove and Republican Mike Parker. Musgrove won the popular vote but he and Parker each carried 61 House districts. The Democratically-controlled House confirmed Musgrove as the winner. A legislator for 40 years, House Democrat Percy Watson of Hattiesburg recalls the race.
“It was somewhat contentious and it is something that should be decided by the people as opposed to the Mississippi House of Representatives,” said Watson.
"There was this fear that Blacks would take over power or the White powers that be didn’t want to share power"
Last year, four Black Mississippians filed a federal lawsuit against the state arguing the two-tier provision discriminates against Blacks and dilutes their votes. The case was filed ahead of the November election for governor between then Lt. Governor Tate Reeves and Attorney General Jim Hood. Leslie-Burl McLemore was one of the plaintiffs in the case. He says there was concern a close race could have gone to the House.
“Given that the House of Representatives is majority Republican is that the legislature would’ve have chosen I’m sure the Republican as opposed to selecting Mr. Hood, who at that time was attorney general," said McLemore.
A federal judge didn’t block the two-tier provision, but he expressed concern that it’s unconstitutional. During this year’s legislative session, lawmakers passed House Concurrent Resolution 47, which if approved by voters, removes the House from the election process. Republican Lt. Governor Delbert Hosemann.
“I think it’s the best way to go forward and also it’s a matter of some litigation. We’re hopeful that the litigation will be resolved by this vote and we’re also hopeful it will give Mississippi a chance to make sure that they elect somebody by a majority vote,” said Hosemann.
Lawmakers say they’re confident voters will approve House Concurrent Resolution 47; that will remove a relic of the past they agree has no place in Mississippi’s future.