Wednesday, March 31, 2021


In a New York Times op-ed abouct the new Georgia election law, Jason Morgan Ward, a historian, writes this about Georgia's past:
Voter suppression tactics like literacy tests and Georgia’s infamous county unit system delivered racist leadership ... while withstanding legal challenges and Supreme Court rulings for decades in part because such measures commonly avoided mention of race.
I wasn't familiar with Georgia's county unit system, so I went to the link and learned this:
The county unit system was established in 1917 when the Georgia legislature, overwhelmingly dominated by the Democratic Party, passed the Neill Primary Act. This act formalized what had operated as an informal system, instituted in Georgia in 1898, of allotting votes by county in party primary elections.... The county unit system continued to be used in Democratic primaries for statewide office and selected U.S. House districts until the early 1960s.

... All 159 counties were classified according to population into one of three categories: urban, town, and rural. Urban counties were the 8 most populous; town counties were the next 30 in population size; and rural counties constituted the remaining 121. Based upon this classification, each county received unit votes in statewide primaries. The urban counties received six unit votes each, the town counties received four unit votes each, and the rural counties received two unit votes each.

Given that Georgia voters were almost entirely Democratic during the first half of the twentieth century, elections were more often decided at the primary stage.... With a statewide total of 410 unit votes, a candidate needed 206 to win the party's nomination, despite the outcome of the popular vote. If a candidate won a plurality of the popular vote in a county, then he received the entire unit vote from that county, meaning that the votes of rural counties could easily equal, and effectively negate, the votes of urban counties. In many elections, candidates who received the majority of popular votes were defeated by candidates who carried the most county unit votes.

Census data from 1960 illustrate the inequities of the county unit system. Although the rural counties accounted for only 32 percent of the state population by that year, they controlled 59 percent of the total unit vote.
This system ended decades ago. But in a state like Georgia or Texas, where it might become increasingly difficult to secure victory for the current party of white racists, is it so hard to imagine that this or something similar could make a comeback, supported by the same sorts of arguments about alleged rural disenfranchisement that conservatives use to defend the Electoral College?

Mississippi had a similar system called "the Mississippi Plan," and only recently got rid of it.
7 African Americans held statewide office in Mississippi – ranging from lieutenant governor to secretary of education – before Mississippi’s 1890 constitution went into place. At that time, the majority population of Mississippi was African American.... At the 1890 constitutional convention, lawmakers made sure that African Americans would not have a majority vote in Mississippi....

Article 5, sections 140, 141, 142, and 143 set up a two-tier election system for statewide offices. If you’re running for governor or any statewide office, you have to win the popular vote by more than a majority – that’s the first tier – and then even if you win the popular vote you also have to win a majority of the House of Representative districts – the second tier. Those districts are designed to be majority white. The likelihood of an African American winning the majority of majority white districts is zero. Even if an African American wins the first popular vote, the election goes to the House to actually cast the vote that matters – and House representatives don’t have to vote according to how their districts voted!
This plan remained in effect through Jim Crow, then after Blacks regained voting rights. Only in 2020 did Mississippi voters finally get rid of the Mississippi Plan in a referendum.

I'm sure it didn't appear to be accomplishing much -- Republicans dominate Mississippi politics and will continue to do so in elections decided solely by the popular vote for some time to come.

But in states that are teetering on the edge of being purple, it won't surprise me if schemes like this make a comeback. It's hard to believe that they'd be prevented from doing so by the current Supreme Court.

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