Lawsuit: Miss. Election Procedures Are ‘Racist Scheme’ Meant to ‘Dilute’ African American Vote

Three African American Mississippi residents plan to file a lawsuit Thursday claiming that the state’s method of electing its governors and statewide officials is demonstrably racist. The plaintiffs will seek an injunction in the upcoming 2019 election due to the state’s “racist electoral scheme” which aims to “dilute African American voting strength.”

The lawsuit is financially backed by the National Redistricting Foundation, an anti-gerrymandering organization and affiliate of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee (NRDC); the committee is providing legal support for the case. Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is the chairman of the NRDC.

The complaint specifically points to Mississippi’s election procedures under which statewide candidates are required to win a majority of the popular vote as well as 62 of 122 state House of Representatives’ districts. Mississippi enshrined the procedure into the state constitution in 1890. The lawsuit claims this was an attempt by the state’s white politicians to suppress the voting power of African Americans.

Mississippi is the only state in the nation with a mandate that candidates must win a majority of state House of Representative districts in order to be elected.

According to the lawsuit, African American voters account for more than half of the state’s voting-age population in over one-third of Mississippi’s 122 House districts. However, due to gerrymandered voting maps, African American voters are heavily concentrated in these districts allegedly to intentionally prevent their supported candidates from winning House district majorities.

In an interview with the Associated Press on Thursday, Holder did not mince words in dredging up the law’s bigoted past, saying that “The election system in Mississippi has really kind of perpetuated a history of racial discrimination that finally has to come to an end.”

This is not a theoretical thing,” he told the AP. “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.”

The complaint echoed Holder’s thoughts and tone:

The architects of this system for electing candidates to statewide office had one goal in mind: entrench white control of State government by ensuring that the newly enfranchised African-American citizens—who, at the time, constituted a majority of the State’s population and some of whom had been elected to statewide offices—would never have an equal opportunity to translate their numerical strength into political power.

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…So long as white Mississippians controlled the House, they would also control the elections of statewide officials.

The lawsuit also claimed that Mississippi’s current rules are intended to give certain votes more weight than others in violation of the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution.

In response to the lawsuit, Bill Denny, a Republican State Representative and chairman of the House Elections Committee, told the AP that he was “comfortable” with Mississippi’s current election system.

Mississippi Statewide Votin… by on Scribd

[Image via Drew Angerer/Getty Images]

Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.

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