JACKSON, Miss. (CN) – Mississippi’s system for electing statewide officials is intentionally racist and designed to disenfranchise the African-American population, according to a federal lawsuit filed Thursday by four black residents seeking to upend a Jim Crow-era law more than a century later.
Mississippi is the only state in the nation to require its statewide candidates to not only win over 50% of the popular vote, but also prevail in a majority of the state’s 122 House of Representative districts.
In the event that no candidate reaches both the popular vote and electoral vote threshold, legislators then determine the winner for statewide offices such as governor and lieutenant governor. Such was the case in 1999 when the Democratic-controlled House voted along party lines to elect a governor between two white candidates who failed to satisfy both rules after a four-person race split the vote.
The electoral rules, added into the Mississippi Constitution in 1890 in the aftermath of the Civil War and Reconstruction, has resulted in no African-Americans winning statewide office in over 130 years, despite the state having the highest black population in the country, according to the federal lawsuit filed Thursday in Jackson.
“This discriminatory electoral scheme achieved, and continues to achieve, the framers’ goals by tying the statewide-election process to the power structure of the House,” the complaint states. “So long as white Mississippians controlled the House, they would also control the elections of statewide officials.”
The four Mississippi men, all long-time voters who say they plan to cast a ballot in this year’s elections, are represented by Jackson attorney Robert McDuff and the Mississippi Center For Justice. They are asking U.S. District Judge Daniel P. Jordan III to prohibit the enforcement of the state’s rules in this year’s elections, and declare them unconstitutional under the Voting Rights Act.
“The challenged provisions dilute votes cast by African-Americans and minimize the influence of African-American votes in elections for statewide offices, all of which denies African-Americans an equal opportunity to participate in the political process and elect their preferred candidates,” the complaint states.
The lawsuit names as defendants Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, and House Speaker Philip Gunn. Gunn declined to comment.
A memo filed with the court Thursday suggests that it could require the state to declare the candidate with the highest number of votes received statewide as the winner. The lawsuit says just three other states – Arizona, Georgia and Vermont – require a candidate to obtain a majority of the popular vote to be elected governor.