/Legislature poised to revisit Jim Crow-era electoral provisions in state Constitution

Legislature poised to revisit Jim Crow-era electoral provisions in state Constitution

Legislation to repeal the 1890s Mississippi Constitution provisions that guaranteed African Americans, who were then majority in Mississippi, would not be elected to state office, may pass this year. The House will play a role in the electoral process. The new Lt. Governor and Delbert Hosemann, both presiding officers. Delbert Hosemann, House Speaker Philip Gunn and both presiding officers have stated that they support the topic being at least considered during this session. Gunn stated recently that “Yes, I believe we will look at it this sessions.” Hosemann stated that the Elections Committee was looking into this. We met privately with the judge to discuss this. “I think it will be up for consideration this spring,” said U.S. Judge Daniel Jordan of Southern District of Mississippi. Based on his public comments, Gunn and Hosemann might be offering incentives to repeal the provisions. To be eligible for the statewide office, a candidate must win the majority of votes and have the most representation in the House districts. Otherwise, the election will be thrown to the House to determine who gets the two highest vote-getters. Jordan said that he would be hearing a lawsuit from his court if the matter is not resolved. A lawsuit was filed in 2019 asking for a federal judge’s decision to declare the provisions unconstitutional. He also requested that the election commission elect the person who received the most votes. Gunn and the then-Secretary to State Hosemann argued in front of the judge that the judiciary should not repeal the provisions. Jordan postponed the lawsuit until after the November elections. He opted to wait to see whether the results of November’s election would trigger the provisions. The provisions were not activated because the winner in every statewide race won a majority vote and received the most votes from a majority in the House districts. Jordan met Gunn, Hosemann, and the new Secretary of State Michael Watson in December. He filed a court filing after the meeting. Watson indicated that he supports the removal of the provisions, saying “If the (constitutional amendment) falls short, then there would ample time to restart this litigation and resolve it before the 2023 electoral cycle.” As he does every year, Sen. David Blount (D-Jackson) introduced legislation to amend Constitution so that the winner would be the one who receives the most votes. A candidate must win at least a majority of votes in three states, Georgia, Louisiana, and Vermont. If no candidate wins a majority in Georgia or Louisiana, there is a runoff. The election in Vermont is thrown into a House. Gunn and Hosemann stated that they were still deciding whether a candidate should need to win a majority vote in order to be elected to the office. The last time that the electoral provisions were activated, in 1999’s governor’s race, Musgrove won the most votes, but he barely managed to capture a majority. There was discussion about removing these provisions, but no agreement was reached as to whether there should be an election if no candidate wins a majority. Each session proposal to amend the Constitution has died in committee, except for 2004, when a provision made it to the House floor and was voted down. The Constitution must be passed by both the Senate and House with two-thirds majority. It also needs to be approved by the voters in November. The Governor does not play a role in amending the Constitution. These provisions were included in the 1890s Constitution, along with other items such as separate school systems and the poll tax, to discriminate against black Mississippians. Apart from the potential for elections to be decided by the House, the most important provisions in the 1890s that discriminated against African Americans are the lifetime ban on people convicted of certain felonies being allowed to vote. A bill has also been introduced to repeal the lifetime ban on voting for certain felonies. This legislation has also been defeated in committee over the years. It is not expected to be considered in this session, as it will likely be replaced by the proposal to end the House’s process of throwing elections.