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Mississippi Gives Voters a Chance to End Racist Election Policy That Keeps Black Candidates From Winning Races

Illustration for article titled Mississippi Gives Voters a Chance to End Racist Election Policy That Keeps Black Candidates From Winning Races
Graphic: Samuel Corum (Getty Images)

The state of Mississippi is close to 40 percent Black, making it the state with the second-largest proportional Black population in the U.S. Yet somehow, no Black person has ever been elected governor or to any other statewide political office in the state’s history. Mississippi voters are now being given the chance to do away with what may have much to “somehow” do with that by eliminating what is believed to be a Jim Crow-era policy meant to keep Black people out of office.

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From ABC News:

Mississippi is the only state with a multistep process for electing statewide positions like governor, attorney general and secretary of state. Its electoral college-like voting system was designed by white framers in Southern Reconstruction with the intent to disenfranchise minority voters and uphold white power in politics.

If the amendment to simplify the process passes, advocates say it would spur more minority candidates to run for office in the Magnolia state—and assure minority voters their constitutionally protected right to equal representation is secure. If it doesn’t, they say it will serve as a painful reminder of the state’s deep history of voter suppression.

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The way Mississippi’s statewide electoral process works is a candidate is required to win both the popular vote and a majority of the state’s 122 House of Representatives’ districts—none of which are required to back the popular vote in their districts. If no candidate wins both, the election is decided by the Mississippi Legislature. So basically, it’s the Electoral College system applied to arguably the most racist state in the country, both historically and presently.

Statewide Ballot Measure 2—the newly proposed amendment that would require Mississippi to do what literally every other state does and decide statewide elections by majority vote—will be on the ballot in November. Vangela M. Wade, president and CEO of the Mississippi Center for Justice, expressed to ABC News that she’s excited this is happening.

“Voters finally have a chance to overturn a racist 1890 election law that has no place in our 2020 Mississippi or in Mississippi of the future,” Wade said. “Jim Crow is on the ballot.”

But how exactly does the current multi-step electoral process prevent Black candidates from winning races?

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More from ABC:

Jarvis Dortch, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi and a former Mississippi state representative, D-District 68, said that the current process essentially “blocks the door from Black participation in our statewide government.”

The election law played a major role in the 1999 gubernatorial race between Democratic candidate Ronnie Musgrove and Republican Mike Parker, both of whom are white. Ultimately, the Democratic-controlled House chose Musgrove as the winner. In 2003, Gary Anderson, a Black candidate who ran for state treasurer, came close to winning but lost by 5.15%, according to a campaign website.

Dortch cited an analysis filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi last year found that a Democratic candidate — or Black-preferred candidate — “would need more than 55% of the statewide vote in order to secure a majority of electoral [House] votes. Candidates preferred by whites, by contrast, would be able to win the electoral vote without winning a majority of the popular vote.”

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So as usual, a Black person has to do double the work to achieve the same position as a white person.

“There are so many barriers to getting elected statewide as a minority candidate, and this is the final one,” Dortch said. “Even if you somehow cross all of the other challenges and come in around at 55% of the vote, you could be thrown out by the House of Representatives voting on a party-line basis. All of it together can discourage, especially Black officials, from looking to run statewide.”

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Derrick Johnson, CEO and president of the NAACP, said the existing electoral process hasn’t necessarily discouraged Black candidates from running but the real issue is that “the viability of winning statewide is daunting.”

“It is very difficult in the state to build the type of campaign financially to compete when you have to persuade 20 to 25% of the white voters to vote for a Black candidate,” Johnson said, ABC reports. “Blacks are willing to vote for white candidates, but we have not seen whites, in large part, promoting and supporting Black candidates from the state.”

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“Whites in this state have not shown a willingness to support a well-qualified candidate over a subpar white candidate,” Johnson continued. “So they will vote in a bloc based on racial lines, not qualification.”

Hopefully, the state of Mississippi will come that much closer to joining the 21st century come November.

Zack Linly is a poet, performer, freelance writer, blogger and grown man lover of cartoons

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