Federal lawsuit claims Mississippi's method of electing governors is racist

Federal lawsuit claims Mississippi's method of electing governors is racist
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A new federal lawsuit against Mississippi claims the state’s method of electing governors and other statewide officials is racist.

The lawsuit, which was obtained by The Hill and will be filed Thursday, targets the Magnolia State’s requirement that statewide candidates must win a majority of the popular vote as well as at least 62 of the 122 state House of Representatives districts.

A statewide election is decided by the Mississippi House if a candidate fails to meet both thresholds, and a representative is not required to vote along with their district.

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Three African American residents of Mississippi are filing the suit seeking to block the system, which was established in 1890 amid Reconstruction-era efforts to suppress black voters.  

“This racist electoral scheme achieved, and continues to achieve, the framers’ goals by tying the statewide election process to the power structure of the House,” the lawsuit says. “So long as white Mississippians controlled the House, they would also control the elections of statewide officials.”

The lawsuit also asks a judge to block the state from using the dual requirements in the 2019 elections, though it does not propose an alternative method.

Instances of a candidate failing to fulfill both requirements are rare. The most recent instance occurred in 1999, when the state House had to choose between two white candidates after a four-way contest denied any one contender a majority of the popular vote.

The National Redistricting Foundation, which is affiliated with the National Democratic Redistricting Committee (NDRC), is providing financial and legal support for the suit.

“The election system in Mississippi has really kind of perpetuated a history of racial discrimination that finally has to come to an end,” former Attorney General Eric HolderEric Himpton HolderThe most important pledge Democratic presidential candidates can make Congress and contempt: What you need to know The Hill's Morning Report - Democrats wonder: Can Nadler handle the Trump probe? MORE, the chairman of the NDRC, told The Associated Press, which was the first to report on the lawsuit.

The lawsuit highlights that the state’s African American voters constitute a majority of the voting-age population in 42 of Mississippi’s 122 House districts. Due to the concentration of black voters, a candidate preferred by white voters could win a majority of House districts while still falling short in the popular vote tally. 

Holder told the AP the rules violate the equal protection requirement of U.S. Constitution by weighing some votes above others.

“This is not a theoretical thing,” Holder said. “We have seen no statewide African American elected to office since this was enacted, in spite of the fact that Mississippi has the highest percentage of African Americans of any state in the country.”

African American candidates have long faced obstacles in Mississippi, as black voters were for decades hindered by poll taxes and violence.

State Rep. Bill Denny (R), the longtime chairman of the House Elections Committee, told the AP he’s “comfortable” with Mississippi’s current system.