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Of all the states of the South and all of the states subject to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, Mississippi has had the longest journey from out of the darkness of segregation and racial subjugation. Early in the 1960s Mississippi had the lowest rates of black voter registration and participation maintained by the most unabashedly violent and vehement efforts to deny black suffrage.
By the beginning of the 21st century, proportionally more blacks than whites were registered to vote in Mississippi, and for two decades Mississippi blacks have registered to vote at higher rates than African-Americans outside the South. Until recently Mississippi whites voted at higher rates than blacks, though the difference between the races has largely been eliminated as of 1998. Mississippi blacks often turn out at rates higher than blacks in the rest of the country.
Mississippi has the highest proportion black population of the United States, though the state has fewer African Americans than in New York City. With approximately 900 officials, blacks hold more public office in the Magnolia State than elsewhere, and a black person is more likely to be represented by or to get to vote for a black officeholder in Mississippi than anywhere else in the US. Since 1987, an African-American has represented the majority-black Delta congressional district. Black representation is approaching proportionality in the state House of Representatives, though the black proportion in the state Senate still lags.
For statewide and congressional elections, voting divisions run along largely parallel partisan and racial lines. Frequently the divisions are in the neighborhood of 80-20 with blacks and Democrats facing off against whites and Republicans. These divisions are affected by incumbency more so than a candidateís race, and reflect the wholesale movement of the respective races into separate parties, and an increasing tendency to vote those party preferences up and down the ticket.
By every measurement, the Voting Rights Act has accomplished what it was designed to do in this state. Within two years of its implementation, black voter registration rates in Mississippi soared to nearly 60 percent, up from less than 7 percent prior to the actís passage.
Edward Blum is a visiting fellow at AEI.