3Qs: Rep. Tommy Reynolds, chairman, House Elections Committee

The recent round of elections has renewed complaints that Mississippians cannot cross party lines when voting in primary contests. State law requires a person to vote a straight party ticket in the party primary and runoff elections. Some say the recent elections, where the Republican party primary essentially decided who the next lieutenant governor would be because no Democrat is running, show that the law should be changed to allow people to vote for candidates of a different party in the primary. State Rep Tommy Reynolds, D-Water Valley, who is finishing his third term as House Elections and Apportionment chair, talked to Daily Journal’s Bobby Harrison about the issue.

Q: What do you think of the current system?
A: I think the present system is not serving the interests of the people anymore. What’s going on is this – if you are a Democrat in Rankin or south Madison counties, you are not participating in the election of justice court judge or a whole host of local races, but if you are a Republican in Jefferson County, you are not participating in the election of justice court judge. You have a substantial group of people who are not part of the electoral process.
Another thing, the more people you have involved in the process, I think, is a moderating influence. I think it draws people to the center where they have to be to appeal to all groups.

Q: Do you think the Legislature should change the law?
A: I think we should, but if the parties do not want it, you know we can do initiatives on various issues. I am not saying we should be like California on a lot of initiatives, but I think California and a lot of states out West have a process where the top two run it off.
Our neighbors in Louisiana have something like that.

Q: We are under the federal Voting Rights Act, meaning election changes must be approved by the Department of Justice. Do you think the DOJ would preclear a system like that for Mississippi?
A: I don’t know. We would just have to take a look at it. I don’t want to say I’m an expert on Section 5 (of the Voting Rights Act) issues. But as I said, our neighbors in Louisiana compete in a single primary. They are under the Votings Right Act. Some areas of California also are under Section 5.

Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal Jackson Bureau