Eric Holder Supports Black Mississippians' Lawsuit Over Racist Election Practices

Four Black voters have sued the state of Mississippi for allegedly having an election process that is racist, and they have former Attorney General Eric Holder on their side. Leslie-Burl McLemore, Charles Holmes, Jimmie Robinson, Sr., and Roderick Woullard filed a federal lawsuit against Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann and Speaker of the Mississippi House of Representatives Philip Gunn. The suit claimed that the state’s procedures for electing state-level candidates in statewide elections has violated the US Constitution and “diluted African American votes.”

“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,” the suit stated.

The 1890 provision requires candidates win a majority of the popular vote as well as a majority of the state’s 122 House districts. It was last invoked in 1999 when the House had to choose between two white candidates who had gotten the most votes in a four-way gubernatorial race, the Associated Press (AP) reported.

“The scheme has its basis in racism — an 1890 post-Reconstruction attempt to keep African Americans out of statewide office,” Holder said in a statement to the AP. “In the 21st century, it’s finally time to say that this provision should be struck down.” Under the Mississippi constitution, if candidates fail to win a majority of the popular vote and the state’s districts, then the election will be decided by the Mississippi House.

Holder, the first African American attorney general, is the chair of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee. According to Salon, the committee has an affiliated foundation that has supported the lawsuit legally and monetarily. The former attorney general was a fierce defender of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and a critic of Republican-led Voter ID laws during the Obama administration.

“This is not a theoretical thing,” Holder added. “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 lawsuit claimed that the Popular-Vote Rule makes it more difficult for African American-preferred candidates to win elections even when the white vote is split between multiple candidates. Meanwhile, the House-Vote Rule makes certain that the House, which is ruled by representatives from majority-white districts, chooses the winner instead of Mississippi voters.

“This discriminatory electoral scheme achieved, and continues to achieve, the framers’ goals by tying the statewide-election process to the power structure of the House,” the suit stated. “So long as white Mississippians controlled the House, they would also control the elections of statewide officials.” Black voters represent a majority of the voting-age population in 42 Mississippi House districts and are highly concentrated in certain districts, the lawsuit states. An estimated 38 percent of the state is Black, according to the AP.

Due to concentrated voting, a white-preferred candidate could win a majority of the House districts without winning the statewide vote. However, the lawsuit contends that an African American-preferred candidate would need to get more than 55 percent of the popular vote to win a majority of House districts. African Americans in Mississippi have also faced other barriers in the state. According to Salon, until the mid-1960s, poll taxes and violence disenfranchised many African American voters.

The lawsuit is seeking a judge to prohibit the state from using the procedure in this year’s elections, the AP reported. While the suit does not offer an alternative procedure, Holder told the AP that the state could be ordered to do what other states do: “Count all the votes and the person who gets the greatest number of votes wins.”

About the Author

Nicole Rojas is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has published in various venues, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Asia and Australia.