Jim Crow is still a thing — if not in law than in spirit in many places.
Mississippi has the largest population of African American voters in the nation, yet no African American has won statewide office in more than 130 years. A newly filed federal lawsuit alleges that is because of election rules from the state’s 1890 constitution that were conceived during the racist backlash to the Civil War and Reconstruction, in a period when black people represented the majority of the state’s population.
White politicians in the South sought to suppress the black voting power that emerged during Reconstruction with racially discriminatory laws, albeit less overtly racist than those that existed before the Civil War. Many of the Jim Crow laws written into the new constitution Mississippi passed after Reconstruction have long since been struck down by courts, but one law still on the books effectively makes it harder for African Americans and Democrats to win elections statewide.
Mississippi might be the most racially polarized state in the nation. The state is about 58% white and 37% African-American. So even while Mississippi’s black population votes overwhelmingly Democrat, in a state where Democrats struggle to get even 15% of the white vote, it’s all but impossible for a Democrat to win statewide.
That’s because Mississippi is the only state in the nation where candidates for statewide office must win a majority of the state popular vote and a majority of the House districts in the state. Mississippi’s African-American voters are heavily concentrated in 42 counties, while a majority of the state’s 122 counties are majority white and majority Republican, this Jim Crow-era method of electing officials to statewide office “dilutes African American voting strength,” according to the plaintiffs in a new lawsuit.
The federal suit was filed last week by four longtime Mississippi voters in affiliation with former Attorney General Eric Holder’s National Democratic Redistricting Committee. It seeks an injunction in this year’s elections against using what it describes as a “racist electoral scheme.”