The Mississippi State Capitol in Jackson. Credit: Vickie D. King/Mississippi Today

“Yea Mississippi,” a legislator sarcastically said when it was pointed out that Mississippi is one of only three states where a general election runoff is required if a candidate for statewide office does not garner a majority vote in the first election.

In every state in America — with the exception of Georgia, Louisiana and Mississippi — the person who garners the most votes wins regardless of whether that candidate gets 45% of the vote or 51%.

The legislator’s sarcastic remark was made because in so many areas, like on the issue of runoff elections, the Magnolia State stands outside of the mainstream.

For instance, Mississippi is:

  • The only state to require two documents to be notarized to vote by mail.
  • Among six states that do not allow no excuse early voting.
  • The only state in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic that did not allow some type of early voting for all citizens.
  • The only state to have its citizen-sponsored initiative process struck down by the courts. And it has happened twice in Mississippi.
  • The only state with no equal pay law for women.
  • Among 12 states not providing health insurance for the working poor by using primarily federal funds.
  • Among less than 10 states not restoring the right to vote to people convicted of felonies at some point after they complete their sentence.
  • The state with the highest state-imposed sales tax on groceries. While some local jurisdictions have higher sales taxes on grocery, there is no statewide sales tax on food higher than what Mississippi imposes.
  • The state with the most lenient gun laws and largest rate of gun deaths, according to the World Population Review.

The above list could go on if not for space limitations.

Yea Mississippi.

It should be pointed out that the unnamed legislator who uttered that term actually supported the runoff concept. People say without a runoff, candidates can be elected with a relatively small percentage of the vote, though they cannot cite many instances where that actually occurred.

The most famous instance might have been in the 1990s when former professional wrestler Jesse Ventura won the Minnesota’s governorship with 37% of the vote. There are ways other than a runoff to prevent candidates from winning with a relatively small percentage of the vote.

For instance, a runoff could be required if no candidate garners at least 40% of the vote or even 45%. Or, as some other states are now doing, enact ranked voting where people select their second preference and so forth, and those selections factor into the overall vote total.

At any rate, the new Mississippi law that requires a runoff is inherently better than the old system. Previously, Mississippi was the only state in which a candidate for governor and other statewide offices could garner a majority of the vote (more than 50%) and not win election. Under the old system, the Constitution required a candidate for statewide office to win a majority of the vote and to capture the most votes in a majority of the 122 House districts. If both thresholds were not met, the state House selected the winner from the top two vote-getters.

In 2020, the Constitution was changed through an act of the Legislature and overwhelmingly ratified by the voters to remove the provision sending elections to the House to decide.

That action marked the first time in the state’s history where the state removed a provision from the 1890 Jim Crow Constitution designed to prevent Blacks from voting without first being ordered to by the federal judiciary. It should be pointed out, though, that a federal judge strongly hinted that he might rule the provision unconstitutional if the state did not act to remove it.

The state on its own, through legislative action in the summer of 2020, also removed the state flag — the last in the nation to prominently display the Confederate battle emblem as part of its design.

So, yea Mississippi.

And there was talk of a citizen-sponsored initiative effort to replace the language imposing a lifetime voting ban on people convicted of certain felonies. That initiative effort, of course, was quashed before it ever started when the Mississippi Supreme Court ruled the state’s initiative process unconstitutional.

The lifetime ban on voting for certain felony convictions was put into the 1890 Constitution in an effort to keep African Americans from voting.

The full panel of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals is considering a lawsuit that attempts to remove the lifetime ban on people convicted of all felonies except those convicted of murder and rape.

It would be another instance of the federal courts doing what state leaders refused to do.

So, again, yea Mississippi.

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Bobby Harrison, Mississippi Today’s senior capitol reporter, covers politics, government and the Mississippi State Legislature. He also writes a weekly news analysis which is co-published in newspapers statewide. A native of Laurel, Bobby joined our team June 2018 after working for the North Mississippi Daily Journal in Tupelo since 1984. He is president of the Mississippi Capitol Press Corps Association and works with the Mississippi State University Stennis Institute to organize press luncheons. Bobby has a bachelor's in American Studies from the University of Southern Mississippi and has received multiple awards from the Mississippi Press Association, including the Bill Minor Best Investigative/In-depth Reporting and Best Commentary Column.