Voting laws in this country are generally crafted to favor white people at the expense of everyone else. Whether it’s gerrymandering districts to the point where a court has to step in or closing down polling stations in predominantly Black areas, it’s sadly not uncommon to see the Black vote undermined. In Mississippi, voting rights advocates have long argued that a law dating back to the Jim Crow-era severely impedes the effectiveness of the Black vote.
CNN reports that Mississippi voters will decide on a constitutional amendment that will strike down a law that requires the winners of state-level elections to receive the popular vote as well as win the majority of the state’s 122 House districts. If the candidate doesn’t win both, the vote is then decided upon by the Mississippi House of Representatives which, as of now, is entirely controlled by Republicans. The amendment will change the law so whoever wins the majority vote, wins the election. Should no single candidate receive the majority vote, a runoff election will be held between the top two.
The proposed constitutional change comes as state legislators faced mounting pressure and possible court action stemming from a June 2019 challenge to the Electoral College-type voting system. The federal lawsuit, brought by four Black Mississippi voters against then-Mississippi Republican Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann and Mississippi Republican House Speaker Philip Gunn, argued that the voting process was set up to “entrench white control” of the state and makes it harder for Black people to win statewide races.
The suit said the distribution of voters by race through state House districts means a candidate preferred by White voters can win the majority of districts with a much lower share of the overall vote than a candidate preferred by Black voters. It described the provision turning over the election to the state House as a “failsafe” for White people in the state.
US District Judge Daniel Jordan III in November wrote that that he had “grave concern that at least the Electoral-Vote Rule is unconstitutional.” The next month, Jordan ruled to put the lawsuit on hold in order to give the state Legislature time to remedy the system on their own before the next statewide races in 2023.
Last week, Mississippi voted in favor of putting the amendment on the ballot for November’s general election. Mississippi is one of the only states to utilize an electoral college-style system for state elections.
Multiple advocacy groups have come out in favor of the amendment. The Mississippi Center for Justice released a statement praising the vote. “In the wake of the historic removal of the Confederate emblem from our state’s flag, we are pleased the legislature is taking this additional step to remove this racist relic of the post-Reconstruction era from Mississippi law,” Vangela M. Wade, the organization’s president, said in the statement. Eric Holder, former U.S. Attorney General and anti-gerrymandering advocate, has also spoken out in favor of the amendment. “As our country reviews its past, I remain hopeful that we will continue to address these unfair, painful parts of our history and set in place laws that live up to America’s founding ideals,” Holder said.
The most recent instance of the voting law being enforced came in 1999 during Mississippi’s gubernatorial race. The election resulted in neither candidate from either party receiving a majority of the vote. According to the New York Times, this resulted in Democrat Ronnie Musgrove being chosen by the state legislature by a vote of 86-36. This was the first time the Governor’s race was decided by the House and ended an eight year run of Republicans holding the office.