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Stories about Mississippi

Results of Mississippi special general runoff elections

Special general runoff elections were held for Mississippi State Senate Districts 15 and 39 and Mississippi House of Representatives Districts 37 and 66 on Oct. 13, 2020. In Mississippi, special elections for state legislative offices are nonpartisan. The special general election for the four districts was held on Sept. 22, 2020. The filing deadline passed on Aug. 3, 2020.

In Senate District 15, Bart Williams won the special election with 53.6% of the vote and defeated Joyce Meek Yates. The special election was called after Gary Jackson (R) resigned on June 30, 2020. Jackson served from 2004 to 2020.

In Senate District 39, Jason Barrett won with 56.1% of the vote and defeated Bill Sones. The special election was called after Sally Doty (R) left office to become the executive director of the Mississippi Public Utilities Staff. She resigned on July 15, 2020. Doty served from 2012 to 2020.

In House District 37, Lynn Wright won with 63.8% of the vote and defeated David Chism. The special election was called after Gary Chism (R) resigned on June 30, 2020. Gary Chism served from 2000 to 2020.

In House District 66, De’Keither Stamps won with 61.5% of the votes and defeated Bob Lee Jr. The special election was called after Jarvis Dortch (D) resigned on July 2, 2020. Dortch served from 2016 to 2020.

As of October 2020, 59 state legislative special elections have been scheduled or held in 27 states. Between 2011 and 2019, an average of 77 special elections took place each year.

Mississippi has held 36 state legislative special elections between 2010 and 2019.

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State legislative special election runoffs to be held in Mississippi October 13

Special election runoffs are being held on October 13 for two seats in the Mississippi State Senate and two seats in the Mississippi House of Representatives. General elections took place in each district on September 22, with the top two candidates advancing to the runoff. Candidates in Mississippi state legislative special elections run without party labels on the ballot.

* In Senate District 15, Joyce Meek Yates and Bart Williams are running in the general election runoff. The seat became vacant after Gary Jackson (R) resigned on June 30. Johnson cited health concerns in his announcement that he would be retiring. He had represented District 15 since 2004.

* In Senate District 39, Jason Barrett and Bill Sones are running in the general election runoff. The seat became vacant on July 15 after Sally Doty (R) was appointed as the executive director of the Mississippi Public Utilities Staff. Doty had represented District 39 since 2012.

* In House District 37, David Chism and Lynn Wright are running in the general election runoff. The seat became vacant after the resignation of Gary Chism (R) on June 30. Chism suffered a stroke in 2017 and said that serving in the state House had become more difficult since then. He also cited his wife’s health concerns as a reason for his resignation. Chism had represented District 37 since 2000.

* In House District 66, Bob Lee Jr. and De’Keither Stamps are running in the general election runoff. The seat became vacant on July 2 after Jarvis Dortch (D) resigned to accept a position as executive director of the Mississippi chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. He had represented District 66 since 2016.

Mississippi legislators are elected to four-year terms, and elections are held in odd-numbered years. All seats in the state Senate and state House are up for election again on November 7, 2023.

Mississippi has a Republican state government trifecta. A trifecta exists when one political party simultaneously holds the governor’s office and majorities in both state legislative chambers. Republicans control the state Senate by a 34-16 margin with two vacancies and the state House by a 73-45 margin with one independent member and three vacancies.

As of October, 59 state legislative special elections have been scheduled for 2020 in 27 states. Between 2011 and 2019, an average of 77 special elections took place each year.

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State legislative special elections to be held in Mississippi

Special elections are being held on September 22 for two districts in the Mississippi State Senate and two districts in the Mississippi House of Representatives. Runoff elections will be held for each race if no candidate earns more than 50% of the vote in the general election. Candidates in Mississippi state legislative special elections run without party labels on the ballot.

In Senate District 15, Joyce Meek Yates, Bricklee Miller, Levon Murphy Jr., and Bart Williams are running in the general election. The seat became vacant after Gary Jackson (R) resigned on June 30. Johnson cited health concerns in his announcement that he would be retiring. He had represented District 15 since 2004.

In Senate District 39, Jason Barrett, Beth Brown, Cindy Bryan, Mike Campbell, Josh Davis, Ben Johnson, Prentiss Smith, Michael Smith, and Bill Sones are running in the general election. The seat became vacant on July 15 after Sally Doty (R) was appointed as the executive director of the Mississippi Public Utilities Staff. Doty had represented District 39 since 2012.

In House District 37, David Chism, Vicky Rose, and Lynn Wright are running in the general election. The seat became vacant after the resignation of Gary Chism (R) on June 30. Gary Chism suffered a stroke in 2017 and said that serving in the state House had become more difficult since then. He also cited his wife’s health concerns as a reason for his resignation. He had represented District 37 since 2000.

In House District 66, Gregory Divinity, Bob Lee Jr., Fabian Nelson, Kathryn Perry, De’Keither Stamps, and Calvin Williams are running in the general election. The seat became vacant on July 2 after Jarvis Dortch (D) resigned to accept a position as executive director of the Mississippi chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. He had represented District 66 since 2016.

Mississippi legislators are elected to four-year terms, and elections are held in odd-numbered years. All seats in the state Senate and state House are up for election again on November 7, 2023.

As of September, 58 state legislative special elections have been scheduled for 2020 in 26 states. Between 2011 and 2019, an average of 77 special elections took place each year.

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Mississippi commission selects final flag design containing a magnolia flower

At the election on November 3, 2020, Mississippi voters will be shown a colored picture of the new proposed state flag, named the In God We Trust Flag. Residents may vote either “yes” to adopt the new flag or “no” to oppose adopting the new state flag. If the new proposed flag is rejected by voters, the Commission to Redesign the Mississippi State Flag will reconvene, design another flag, and allow voters to approve or reject it at a special election in November 2021. The commission unanimously selected the final flag on September 2, 2020.

Small changes to the flag were set to be made before it is finalized, such as bolding the words IN GOD WE TRUST.

After the killing of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, the debate about the state flag resurfaced in the state government. Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves (R) tweeted on June 27, 2020, “The argument over the 1894 flag has become as divisive as the flag itself and it’s time to end it.” State Representative Robert Johnson III (D) said, “It is a symbol of terror in the Black community. It is a symbol of oppression in the Black community and it is a symbol of slavery. Everything that has been devastating to African Americans and to especially African Americans in the South, everything that has been a complete and utter disaster for us, that flag represents.” Johnson said the protests after Floyd’s death created a perfect storm that spurred the state legislature to act in removing the state flag.

Mississippi became the only state with a state flag containing the Confederate flag after Georgia had removed it from its state flag in 2001.

House Bill 1796, which was passed by the legislature and signed into law by Gov. Tate Reeves (R) on June 30, 2020, removed the official status of the state flag, which, at the time, contained the Confederate ballot cross. The bill provided for the removal of the state flag within 15 days. The bill established the Commission to Redesign the Mississippi State Flag, which was tasked with designing a new state flag and reporting the recommended design to the governor and the state legislature. The bill provided that “the new design for the Mississippi State Flag shall honor the past while embracing the promise of the future.” The Commission to Redesign the Mississippi State Flag consisted of nine members. The speaker of the house and the lieutenant governor each appointed three members. The other three members were representatives from the Mississippi Economic Council, the Mississippi Arts Commission, and the Board of Trustees of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, which were appointed by Gov. Tate Reeves.

The public was able to submit flag designs to the Mississippi Department of Archives and History (MDAH) until August 1, 2020. Flag designs needed to adhere to North American Vexillological Association standards (be simple enough that a child could draw it from memory; use meaningful symbolism; use two or three basic colors; not use lettering or seals; and be distinctive or be related). The commission received around 3,000 flags that met the criteria. The commission narrowed the designs down across four meetings until the final design was selected on September 2, 2020.

The previous Mississippi state flag was adopted by the state legislature in 1894. The emblem on the left side of the 1894 flag included the Confederate battle cross. In 1906, Mississippi enacted a revised code of laws, and due to an oversight, the law establishing the official state flag was inadvertently repealed. Voters in Mississippi decided a state flag referendum in April 2001. The measure presented voters with two potential state flags. Voters approved Proposition A, which made the 1894 Confederate flag the official state flag.

The 2001 flag referendum came about after a lawsuit brought by the NAACP in 1993 alleging that the use of the Confederate flag in the state flag violated the plaintiff’s constitutional rights to free speech, due process, and equal protection. The Mississippi Supreme Court ruled in 2000 that the state flag’s inclusion of the Confederate Battle Flag did not violate any constitutionally protected rights. The court had also found that the state flag requirements were not codified in state law and thus Mississippi did not have an official state flag. The 2001 flag referendum was held to formally adopt a state flag and officially codify it in law.

A group called Let Mississippi Vote planned to file an initiative targeting the 2022 ballot that would ask voters to choose between four flag designs:

1. The former state flag that includes Confederate battle emblem, but with the phrase “In God We Trust” added;
2. The flag commission’s final flag, which contains a magnolia flower and the words “In God We Trust”;
3. The bicentennial flag with the state seal; and

4. The former Stennis Flag (also called the Hospitality Flag), which includes the words “In God We Trust.”

As of September 2, 2020, one initiative filing concerning the state flag was active. The measure, sponsored by Matthew Brinson, would ask voters if they want to change the flag from the 1894 flag containing the Confederate battle cross to the Hospitality Flag.

To qualify an initiative for the 2022 ballot, 106,190 valid signatures are required. Signatures for the initiative can be collected for a period of one year after petitions are approved.



Commission to redesign Mississippi state flag will decide among five finalists on September 2

At the election on November 3, 2020, Mississippi voters will be shown a colored picture of a new proposed state flag. The proposed flag cannot include the Confederate Battle Flag and must include the words “In God We Trust.” Electors will vote “Yes” to adopt the new flag or “No” to oppose adopting the new flag. If the new proposed flag is rejected by voters, the Commission to Redesign the Mississippi State Flag will reconvene again, design another flag, and allow voters to approve or reject it at a special election in November 2021.

House Bill 1796, which was passed by the legislature and signed into law by Governor Tate Reeves (R) on June 30, 2020, removed the official status of the state flag, which had contained the Confederate battle cross. Mississippi became the only state with a state flag containing the Confederate battle cross after Georgia had removed it from its state flag in 2001.

On June 27, 2020, Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves (R) tweeted, “The argument over the 1894 flag has become as divisive as the flag itself and it’s time to end it.” State Representative Robert Johnson III (D) said, “It is a symbol of terror in the Black community. It is a symbol of oppression in the Black community and it is a symbol of slavery. Everything that has been devastating to African Americans and to especially African Americans in the South, everything that has been a complete and utter disaster for us, that flag represents.” Johnson said the protests against racism after Floyd’s death created “a perfect storm” that spurred the state legislature to act in removing the state flag.

Sen. Chris McDaniel (R) said, “I can see where any symbol can be subject to misinterpretation… I’m going to come down on the side of history and tradition.” A group called Let Mississippi Vote said that it will file an initiative petition seeking to let Mississippi voters decide if they want to keep the flag with the Confederate battle cross or change the design. To appear on the 2022 ballot, the group would need to collect 106,190 valid signatures and submit them by early October 2021.

House Bill 1796 established the nine-member Commission to Redesign the Mississippi State Flag, tasked with designing a new state flag. The bill provided that “the new design for the Mississippi State Flag shall honor the past while embracing the promise of the future.”

The public was able to submit flag designs (either by mail or email) to the Mississippi Department of Archives and History (MDAH) until August 1, 2020. Flag designs needed to adhere to North American Vexillological Association standards (be simple enough that a child could draw it from memory; use meaningful symbolism; use two or three basic colors; not use lettering or seals; and be distinctive or be related). The commission received around 3,000 flags that met the criteria.

By August 7, 2020, the nine commissioners each needed to choose 25 flags to advance to the second round. On August 14, 2020, the Commission to Redesign the Mississippi State Flag narrowed down the number of potential flags to nine. The designs were posted on the MDAH’s website for public view. The commission met on August 18 and selected five flags to move forward. The final five flags were set to be printed on fabric for commissioners to view at the meeting set for August 25. The top five flags will be offered for public comment beginning on August 25 through September 2. The commission is set to select a final flag design and submit it to the legislature and the governor on September 2.


Doty resigns from Mississippi State Senate, special election set for replacement

Mississippi Sen. Sally Doty (R) resigned from the state legislature after Gov. Tate Reeves (R) appointed her to the executive director position of the Mississippi Public Utilities Staff on July 15. The agency advises the three-member Mississippi Public Service Commission, which regulates telecommunications, electric, gas, water and sewer utilities in the state. Doty had represented District 39 since 2012.
Doty announced her resignation in a Facebook post following the appointment, writing, “Today Governor Reeves appointed me as Executive director of the Public Utilities Staff that oversees the interests of utility rate payers and public utilities. I will resign from my seat in the Senate, and the Governor will set a special election. I’ve been honored to represent the people of SW Mississippi for the past 9 years.”
Vacancies in the Mississippi state legislature are filled by special election. Gov. Reeves set the special election for Senate District 39 to take place on September 22. There is one other vacancy in the chamber, which occurred when former Sen. Gary Jackson resigned from the District 15 seat on June 30. The governor has not yet set a date for the special election to fill that seat.
Two state legislative special elections have been scheduled in Mississippi so far this year. One, for House District 88, took place on June 23. The other, which will fill the seat representing House District 87, is scheduled for November 3.
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Mississippi Supreme Court reaffirms end of state-level Chevron deference; Georgia legislation to end deference to state tax agency fails to pass

The Mississippi Supreme Court on May 28 unanimously held in a tax and gambling case that a state tax statute requiring judicial deference to a state agency’s interpretation of an unclear law—a doctrine known as Chevron deference at the federal level—was unconstitutional because it prohibited the court from exercising its constitutional duty to interpret the law.

The court reaffirmed its 2018 ruling in King v. Mississippi Military Department, which ended the state-level Chevron deference doctrine on the grounds that the practice violated the separation of powers prescribed by the state constitution. The King decision instituted a new standard of de novo review.

The court further clarified in the tax case that the King decision applied to any state statute requiring the Chevron deference doctrine.

In Georgia, legislation that would have ended judicial deference to the state Department of Revenue’s interpretations of constitutional provisions, state statutes, and agency regulations failed to pass the state Senate in the final days of the legislative session. The state House of Representatives approved the bill by a 158-8 vote on February 18.

Additional reading:
Read more about the Georgia legislation in the March 2020 edition of Checks and Balances


Mississippi Rep. Dortch resigns, takes job with ACLU

Former state legislator Jarvis Dortch (D) resigned from the Mississippi House of Representatives on July 2. That same day, the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi posted a press release announcing that Dortch would start as executive director of the chapter on July 13.
Dortch posted his resignation letter on Twitter, in which he told House Speaker Philip Gunn (R) that he regretted leaving “the women and men of House District 66 unrepresented for the next few months,” but that he was “excited for the next chapter in [his] career.”
Dortch was first elected to the Mississippi House in 2015. He ran for and won re-election unopposed in 2019. His resignation leaves the third vacancy in the chamber.  Vacancies in the Mississippi state legislature are filled by special election.


Mississippi to vote on changing gubernatorial and state office election procedures

The Mississippi Legislature referred a constitutional amendment to the 2020 ballot that would change election requirements for candidates for governor and statewide elected office.

Currently, in Mississippi, a candidate for Governor or elected statewide offices (Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of State, Attorney General, State Auditor, State Treasurer, Commissioner of Agriculture, and Commissioner of Insurance) must win the popular vote and the highest number of votes in a majority of the state’s 122 House districts (the electoral vote).

If no candidate secures majorities of both the popular and the electoral vote, under Article V, Section 141, the Mississippi House of Representatives considers the two highest vote-getters and chooses the winner. The election system was adopted in the state constitution of 1890.

The constitutional amendment would remove the electoral vote requirement and the House of Representatives’ role in choosing a winner. The amendment would provide that if a candidate for Governor of Mississippi or statewide elected office does not receive a majority vote of the people, the candidates will proceed to a runoff election.

The details of the runoff election would be provided through state law. A runoff election is a second election conducted to determine which of the top vote-getters in the first election will be elected to office. Runoffs occur in states that require candidates to receive a majority (as opposed to a plurality) of the vote to win an election.

A majority voting system is an electoral system in which the winner of an election is the candidate that received more than half (50%+1) of the votes cast. A plurality voting system is an electoral system in which the winner of an election is the candidate that received the highest number of votes. The candidate does not need to win a majority of votes to be elected.

The amendment was introduced as House Concurrent Resolution 47 by Rep. Jim Beckett (R) on February 17, 2020. The House adopted the measure in a vote of 109-6 on June 28, and the Senate adopted the measure in a vote of 49-2 on June 29, 2020.

The Mississippi House of Representatives has decided a gubernatorial election one time. In 1999, Ronnie Musgrove (D) received a plurality of the vote, 8,300 more votes than the next highest vote-getter, Mike Parker (R) in a contest with four candidates. Musgrove received 49.6% of the vote and Parker received 48.5% of the vote. Musgrove and Parker each won 61 of the state’s 122 House districts. Since neither candidate won a majority (over 50%) of the vote and a majority of the state’s House districts, the Democratic-controlled Mississippi House of Representatives decided the election. The House chose Musgrove on January 4, 2000, in a vote of 86-36 along party lines.

The National Redistricting Foundation, the 501(c)(3) arm of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, which is chaired by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, supports the constitutional amendment. The foundation said the amendment would “remove a racially discriminatory law designed to restrict the voting rights of African Americans. Due to pressure from a National Redistricting Foundation lawsuit filed last year, the state is finally casting out a post-Reconstruction era electoral scheme designed to maintain white control of the state government and prevent African-American voters in Mississippi from having a real voice in their representation.”

Four African-American citizens filed a federal lawsuit (McLemore v. Hosemann) backed by the National Redistricting Foundation on May 30, 2019, alleging that the electoral vote requirement was racially discriminatory and violated the U.S. Constitution and the Voting Rights Act. Plaintiffs sought a preliminary injunction to block enforcement of the electoral vote requirement for the 2019 gubernatorial election.

On November 1, 2019, the court acknowledged that the electoral vote requirement was likely unconstitutional, but noted that “courts have allowed elections to proceed under unconstitutional rules where it is simply too late to make a change” and denied to grant a preliminary injunction. On December 13, 2019, the court stayed litigation surrounding the election requirements to give the state legislature a chance to remove the constitutional provisions during the 2020 legislative session and said that “if the amendment process falls short, then there would be ample time to resume this litigation and resolve the matter before the 2023 election cycle.”



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