November 30, 2020

Mississippi voters overturn Reconstruction-era election law

Mississippi voters have voted in favor of eliminating a Reconstruction-era electoral college provision in races for governor and other statewide offices.

The Mississippi Constitution currently requires a statewide candidate to win a majority of the popular vote and a majority of the electoral vote. One electoral vote goes to the candidate receiving the most support in each of the 122 state House districts. If nobody wins both the popular vote and the electoral vote, the race is decided by the state House. But representatives are not obligated to vote as their districts did.

Mississippi is the only state with the multistep process for electing a governor. The process was written when white politicians across the South were enacting laws to erase Black political power gained during Reconstruction. The separate House vote was promoted as a way for the white ruling class have the final say in who holds office.

Black plaintiffs sued the state over its electoral process last year. Days before the 2019 governor’s race, U.S. District Judge Daniel P. Jordan III wrote that he has “grave concern” about the constitutionality of the electoral vote provision. Jordan wrote that the plaintiffs’ argument about a violation of one person, one vote is “arguably … their strongest claim.”

In September, Gov. Tate Reeves described the lawsuit as a ploy by state Democrats to get a Democrat elected governor.

Now that the measure has passed, candidates for governor or any other statewide office in Mississippi must receive a majority of the votes in the general election to win. If no candidate receives a majority, a runoff election will be held to determine the winner.