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Free Citizen

This writer espouses individual liberty, free markets, and limited government.

Location: Jackson, Mississippi, United States

Thursday, July 23, 2009

A Proposal From 1968

John Bell Williams of Raymond vacated his seat in the U. S. House after his election as governor of Mississippi. In the February 27, 1968 special election to fill the seat, Charles Evers of Fayette, field secretary of the state NAACP, shocked many by finishing first against the six white candidates. In the March 12 runoff, Charlie Griffin of Utica, longtime administrative assistant to Congressman Williams, defeated Evers decisively.

"(Alarmed at the possibility that a minority candidate might be elected to office in a general election, where the candidate with a plurality[1] would win regardless of how many were on the ballot, the Mississippi House of Representatives in April, 1968, adopted H. B. 8... . This bill would supplement the usual party primaries in August by establishing a "preferential election" to be held on the Tuesday after the second Monday in October. This October ballot would list all the candidates for the office, identifying them by party or independent status. If no candidate polled [50-plus percent], then the two receiving the highest number of votes would have their names placed on the ballot in the November... election, to be held as usual on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in [November].

"(This meant there would never be more than two candidates on the [November] ballot, and assuming only one could be black, it would assure that the heavier voting whites would elect a white candidate. Any candidate receiving [50-plus percent] of the votes cast in a preferential election would have his name only placed on the ballot in the [November] election.

"(The House-passed bill was killed in the Senate Elections Committee)."[2]

I'm going to have to do some research on this, but it sounds like this provision would have been for state and county offices only, since those are the only offices for which we have party primaries in August. And when Mr. Johnston says "all the candidates" would be listed on the October ballot, that surely would not include the ones who were eliminated in the August party primaries. Otherwise, what would be the point of holding party primaries?

The new October election would actually be a general election requiring 50-plus percent to win. The November election would then be a runoff general election. If the October election were indeed a preferential election, the voter would get more than one choice per office; if that's the case, he doesn't specify how many choices.

Even if this bill had been passed by the Senate and signed by the governor, the U. S. Department of Justice would almost certainly have rejected it under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.

Mississippi has long had a provision that, to win a statewide constitutional office, a candidate must (1) receive 50-plus percent of the vote, AND (2) carry at least 62 of the 122 state House districts. Otherwise, in the following January, the state House of Representatives chooses between the top two vote-getters.

Vermont is the only other state that has a similar provision. In that state, when no candidate gets 50-plus percent, the choice is made by a joint session of both houses of the legislature.

Georgia is the only state that has party primaries AND runoff general elections. When no candidate gets 50-plus percent in the general election, the top two finishers meet in a runoff general election. This applies to partisan local, state, and congressional offices.


[1] The highest number is less than 50 percent.

[2] Erle Johnston, Politics: Mississippi Style (Forest, Mississippi: Lake Harbor Publishers, 1993), pp. 201-202.


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