A fewer percentage of people voted in Mississippi in last week’s midterm elections than citizens in any other state, according to an analysis by the Washington Post.
Mississippians should not get all the blame for the embarrassingly low voter turnout of 31.6%. Mississippi’s legislators should receive the lion’s share of the blame.
After all, the state Legislature has created a gerrymandered system where the argument could be made that unless a voter was a family member of one of the congressional candidates running for office or taking a bribe to vote, there was very little reason to go to the polls.
Political hyperbole, of course.
But it is hard to believe there is another state with multiple congressional districts as non-competitive as those in Mississippi. Three of the districts are among the most Republican in the nation, and the fourth is solidly Democratic.
According to the respected Cook Political Report, all four of Mississippi’s congressional districts have partisan voter indexes in the double digits. Congressional districts with partisan voter indexes in the low single digits are considered competitive.
If there are no competitive races, there is less incentive to vote. Granted, for many there were also judicial and school board elections on the ballot, so, yes, truly responsible Mississippians should have exercised their right to vote in the most recent election.
But truth be known, competitive federal elections for Senate and for congressional seats were driving higher turnout in most states. Of course, neither of Mississippi’s U.S. senators were up for reelection this year.
And the Mississippi Legislature took care of the rest by ensuring that the state’s four congressional districts are not competitive. Granted, the Mississippi Legislature is not the only political entity across the nation engaged in gerrymandering congressional districts and for that matter state legislative districts.
It is an issue nationwide with more and more “safe” districts being drawn. Candidates in safe Republican districts feel less inclined to try to meet the needs of his or her Democratic constituents or vice versa. The candidates have more of an incentive to accommodate the political extremes.
Mississippi is a state where the Democratic candidates for statewide office – even those with no financial resources to mount competitive campaigns – routinely garner at least 40% of the vote. Yet, it would be a rare occurrence for a Democrat to occupy more than one of the four congressional districts.
Mississippi is not unique. For instance, all three New Mexico congressional districts were captured by Democratic candidates this election cycle even though the Republican candidate for governor captured 46% of the vote. Based on that breakdown, it seemed that a Republican would have won one of the congressional districts.
But at least all three New Mexico congressional districts were relatively competitive, with one candidate winning by a mere 50.3% of the vote and all winning by less than 60%. When a district is competitive, then the quality of the candidate, not the political party of the candidate, is more of a factor in the outcome.
In Mississippi, the most competitive race was in District 2, where Democratic incumbent Bennie Thompson won with about 60%. All three Republicans captured more than 70%.
Before the 2000 United States Census, Mississippi had five congressional districts. When redistricting the state after that, the Democratic leadership of the state House sought to create at least one competitive district.
The Republican-influenced Senate blocked that effort, leaving it to the federal court to draw four non-competitive districts.
This past session, after the 2020 Census, Thompson voiced support for a plan that at his expense would have made the 3rd District represented by Republican Michael Guest a bit more competitive. Guest opposed the plan. It was rejected by the Republican leadership of the state Legislature.
Truth be known, under the plan supported by Thompson, both he and Guest still would have been heavy favorites to win reelection, but just not as favored as under the plan approved by the Legislature.
Of course, under the plan adopted by the Legislature, Mississippians felt less compelled to go to the polls than the citizens of any other state.
Another factor contributing to the depressed voter turnout could be that Mississippi is one of less than 10 states without no-excuse early voting. Arguably, it is harder to vote in Mississippi than any state in nation.
Still, in the 2020 presidential election year, 59.9% of Mississippians voted, according to the Washington Post. That year Mississippians voted at a higher rate than people in the neighboring states of Tennessee (59.5%) and Arkansas (56.3%) and comparable with Texas (60.7%) but below California (67.7%).
In other words, like the citizens of other states, Mississippians are more inclined to perform their patriotic duty of voting when they have more of an incentive.