Mississippi Abolishes Jim Crow-Era State Voting System

The Mississippi governor's mansion in Jackson.

The Mississippi governor's mansion in Jackson. Shutterstock

 

Connecting state and local government leaders

The relic from the state’s 1890 constitution, one of several provisions designed to dilute the power of Black voters, was abolished through a ballot initiative that won by a blowout margin.

Mississippi voters on Tuesday scrapped the state's electoral college-style system for electing the governor and other statewide positions, rejecting a Jim Crow-era relic that dated back to the 19th century.

The state will now elect state officials based on the popular vote. In previous elections, candidates for state offices had to win not only the popular vote, but also the highest number of votes in a majority of 122 state House districts. If no candidate reached both thresholds, the state House could choose the winner between the two highest popular vote winners. Now, under the new rules, if no candidate receives more than 50% of the popular vote, the election will move to a runoff.

The old system, rejected by 78% of voters, was created with the state’s 1890 constitution. That document contained a number of voter suppression measures, like poll taxes and literacy tests, that were aimed at limiting the power of Black men enfranchised after the Civil War. Solomon Calhoon, the president of the constitutional convention, made the purpose of the measures clear. “We came here to exclude the Negro,” he said. “Nothing short of this will answer.”

“There’s no doubt [the electoral system] was designed with a specific purpose in mind,” said Marvin King, a professor of political science and African American studies at the University of Mississippi. “If a lot of your voters are concentrated, as Black voters are in Mississippi, getting a geographic majority is going to be really difficult.”

The constitutional amendment was put before voters because of a lawsuit filed over the state’s election system. In 2019, four Black Mississippians sued the Mississippi secretary of state and the House speaker, both Republicans, in federal district court, arguing that the electoral system “intentionally and effectively” diluted the strength of Black voters to “entrench white control of state government by ensuring that the newly enfranchised African-American citizens … would never have an equal opportunity to translate their numerical strength into political power.”

In its defense against the lawsuit, lawyers for the state said that they did not “wish to defend the motivations behind a law allegedly enacted with racial animus” but that the “timing of its filing demonstrate that this lawsuit is not about race, and it is not about vindicating alleged wrongs to plaintiffs’ right to vote—it’s about partisan politics.”

The lawsuit sketched out various scenarios in which modern-day Black Mississippians could see their voting power diminished. Black voters in the state are highly concentrated in certain state House districts and overwhelmingly vote for Democratic candidates, but white voters who favor Republicans make up the majority in more state House districts. This, the lawsuit claimed, "creates a system in which white-preferred candidates can win a majority of House districts with a smaller percentage of the statewide popular vote than would be required of an African American-preferred candidate." 

No candidate who won the state’s popular vote has ever lost the election due to the electoral system—but the lawsuit argued that the system is still fundamentally racially discriminatory.

“Even to the present day, no African American has been elected to statewide office in Mississippi following the enactment of the 1890 Constitution, even though Mississippi currently boasts the highest percentage of African Americans among all states in the nation,” the lawsuit reads. 

Backed by the National Redistricting Foundation, led by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, the suit attempted to block the electoral vote requirement for the 2019 gubernatorial election. A judge declined to do so, saying the timing was too close to the election, and later delayed proceedings to give the state legislature time to change the election system. The constitutional amendment was passed in June by a bipartisan group of lawmakers in the state House and Senate and sent to voters to consider. 

Republican leaders in the state eventually came out in favor of the ballot measure, with Secretary of State Mike Watson saying he was “definitely supportive of moving away from the current system.”

Under the new procedure adopted by voters, which will be used in 2023 the next time Mississippi votes on a governor and other statewide positions, candidates can be elected by a majority of voters. As in Louisiana and Georgia, however, if neither candidate gets more than 50% of the vote, a runoff election will be held.  

Will the abolition of the electoral college system result in more Black candidates, or the Democratic candidates Black voters prefer, winning state office in Mississippi? King doesn’t think so, saying they still have “significant headwinds to campaign against” in a solidly white and Republican-leaning state. “I think this was more of a ‘good housekeeping measure’ that decluttered the state constitution of flotsam that never should have been there to begin with,” he said. “If a Black Democrat did run statewide someday in the future and this kept them from winning, people would point at this Jim Crow relic and say Mississippi is standing in the way of the most basic progress.”

But even if it doesn’t result in a more diverse array of candidates, King says he was surprised by how wide of a margin the measure won approval. “Occasionally Mississippi surprises,” he said. “I think the noteworthy thing about all this is that Mississippi finally took down a relic of Jim Crow without federal intervention.”

“Granted, it took about 50 years after Jim Crow ended,” he continued, while pointing out that Mississippi only officially ratified the thirteenth amendment, which abolished slavery, in 2013. “Mississippi is clearly not a state in a rush to do anything. So the fact that there was momentum to get this done says something.”

Emma Coleman is the assistant editor for Route Fifty.

FEATURED CASE STUDIES
Powered By The Atlas
Orlando Protects Citizens During Heavy Rain Events by Optimizing Water Data Intelligence
Orlando, FL, USA
Small city of Baldwin, GA with <5K residents reduces info calls to City Hall by 50%
Baldwin, GA, USA
Green Infrastructure acts as a bridge for Indigenous reconciliation in Vancouver, BC
W 63rd Ave & Yukon St, Vancouver, BC V5X 2J2, Canada

NEXT STORY: For Decades, Denver Outlawed Pit Bulls. Voters Just Overturned the Ban.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.