MISSISSIPPI — The winner of Mississippi’s gubernatorial election Tuesday will not only have to capture the state’s popular vote, but will also have to prevail in the state’s unique election process for electing a governor and other statewide officials that was established during the Jim Crow era.
Mississippi Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, a Republican, is running against Attorney General Jim Hood, a Democrat. While Hood already faces a challenge in capturing the state’s popular vote — Cook Political Report recently labeled the race as “leans Republican” — the state’s unusual election process could also complicate his path to the governorship.
A candidate needs a majority in the popular vote and needs to win a majority of Mississippi’s 122 state house districts. If no candidate fulfills both of these requirements, the Mississippi House of Representatives, which is controlled by Republicans, selects the winner.
The election process, as written in the state’s constitution in 1890, was enacted at a time when white Southerners were putting in place laws to deny blacks political power.
Critics of the system have said it “dilutes” the African American vote in favor of white districts and officeholders.
A federal judge ruled Friday that the unique election process will remain in place for Tuesday’s election despite a lawsuit filed earlier this year by four African American Mississippi voters against Mississippi GOP Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann and Mississippi GOP House Speaker Philip Gunn, accusing the state of violating the 14th and 15th Amendments to the US Constitution as well as a section of the Voting Rights Act.
“Absent court intervention, the challenged provisions will continue to infringe upon the constitutional and statutory rights of African American voters in Mississippi, dilute African American votes and violate the one-person, one-vote principle in the upcoming general election and in every statewide election for years to come,” the complaint submitted to a federal court in Mississippi read.
The provision increases white control because “the vast majority of House districts have a majority-white population that can easily outvote the smaller number of highly concentrated African-American majority districts,” the complaint said.
While Mississippi has the highest share of African Americans of any state in the country, not a single African American has won state-level, statewide office since Reconstruction.