Four African-American Mississippians have filed a lawsuit to put a stop to what they claim is a racially discriminatory system for choosing Mississippi’s governor.
The provision that prompted the lawsuit says candidates running for governor have to win a majority of the popular vote and a majority of the state’s 122 House districts. If no candidate fulfills these requirements, a statewide election is decided by the Mississippi Hous, and representatives don’t have to vote as their districts did.
“The scheme has its basis in racism — an 1890 post-Reconstruction attempt to keep African Americans out of statewide office,” said former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, the first black person to hold that position. He added: “In the 21st century, it’s finally time to say that this provision should be struck down.”
The lawsuit addresses that black voters are highly concentrated in certain Mississippi House districts and make up a majority of the voting-age population in 42 of them. White residents in the state typically vote Republican while black residents generally vote Democrat. Because of this, a candidate preferred by white voters could win a majority of the House’s districts without winning the statewide vote.
The suit asks for a judge to ban Mississippi from using this procedure in this year’s elections. While it doesn’t recommend an alternative option, Holder said the state could be ordered to do what most states do — “count all the votes, and the person who gets the greatest number of votes wins.”
Chairman of the House Elections Committee, Republican Rep. Bill Denny of Jackson said there hasn’t been an effort to alter Mississippi’s rules for electing statewide officials in the 32 years he’s been in office.
“I’m comfortable with it,” Denny said of the current system.