DESOTO COUNTY, Miss. (WMC) - A newly filed federal lawsuit claims Mississippi’s method of electing statewide offices, like governor, is racist. One of the plaintiffs at the center of the suit lives in Desoto County. And for him, the issue is personal.
“I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing, if I didn’t think there was a brighter future,” said Leslie-Burl McLemore.
McLemore is no stranger to Mississippi politics. A Desoto County native, he was active during the Civil Rights Movement, served as a member of Jackson’s city council and taught collegiate political science. Now he’s in his second year of service as a Walls alderman.
“Voting is at the heart of it,” he said.
McLemore was contacted by the Mississippi Center for Justice to be one of four plaintiffs in a court challenge filed Thursday, cracking down on how statewide office-holders are elected in the Magnolia State.
The lawsuit names Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann and House Speaker Philip Gunn. It points to a little-known and infrequently-used part of Mississippi’s state constitution that says a candidate for governor or other state office has to win a majority of the popular vote, more than 50 percent, and a majority of 122 districts in the Mississippi House of Representatives.
If both aren’t met then the House decides a winner.
“It’s designed to dilute the impact of the black vote in the long-term,” McLemore said.
McLemore and other critics said in a close race, the predominantly white and Republican House could tilt a tight contest because much of Mississippi’s black population is heavily concentrated in counties in the Delta, and thus, not proportionally represented fairly.
“This may be an odd part of the Mississippi constitution, but the question is, is it unconstitutional or a violation of the Voting Rights Act,” said Michael Nelson, WMC Action News 5 Political Analyst, “That’s something the lawsuit is designed to get a court to resolve.”
As for the timing, Mississippi’s governor race in November is expected to be the most competitive in years, analysts said. Front-runners include Attorney General Jim Hood on the Democratic side and Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves on the Republican side.
The lawsuit was filed in federal court in Jackson. At last check, a hearing date has not yet been set.