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Constitution Has Answer For State Governor's Race
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Mississippians are getting a short course in constitutional law thanks to the as-yet-unresolved governor's race.
Ronnie Musgrove narrowly won more votes in the Nov. 2 general election than did Mike Parker, but he is not the governor-elect. Neither man won a majority of the popular votes cast and with the final tally not yet in, it looks as if neither will win a majority of the state's electoral votes.
P.C. (Mac) McLaurin, local government specialist with Mississippi State University's Extension Service and head of the Center for Governmental Technology, said the Mississippi constitution has two hurdles for candidates to overcome before claiming the state's highest office.
"To be elected governor, you must get the majority of the popular votes cast and you must get a majority of the electoral votes cast," McLaurin said.
Electoral votes in Mississippi correspond with the House of Representatives election districts. The state has 122 House seats and 122 electoral votes.
"The person who gets the highest number of votes in a House election district gets the electoral vote of that district," McLaurin said. "Choosing the winner from the electoral college is nothing more than the mathematics of how the votes were cast."
There is a 10-day deadline for tallying electoral votes, but not all the counties in Mississippi met that schedule. Popular vote counts are given by county, but election districts span as many as five counties. To get the electoral vote count, boxes from voter precincts in more than one county often must be counted, McLaurin said.
The Constitution requires the Secretary of State to deliver the results of the popular vote and the electoral vote to the House of Representatives. This is done on the first day of the new legislative session in January. If neither candidate holds the majority of both votes, representatives choose a governor from the two candidates winning the highest numbers of popular votes.
Representatives make this decision by voice vote and are not bound by other opinions.
"When the members of the House are called upon to vote, in casting that vote they will probably consider such things as which candidate got the most popular vote in the state, which candidate got the most popular vote in their election district and the political party of the candidate in relation to their own political party," McLaurin said.
Phil Carter, assistant secretary of state for elections, said Mississippi has never before had a governor's race decided by the House of Representatives. However, the 1991 lieutenant governor's race between Eddie Briggs and Brad Dye was conceded before being decided by the state House.
Carter said about 20 counties still had not delivered certified results by the 10-day deadline and the final tally was not expected until the third week of November.
"Assuming Mr. Parker doesn't concede, the process will be pretty straightforward," Carter said. "When the Legislature starts in January, there will be a recorded vote by each member of the House. They're not bound by the popular vote of their district. They're free to vote however they want."