By Jeff Amy/The Associated Press
JACKSON — Special election candidates in two north Mississippi legislative races will run using old district lines, though officials say that decision may be challenged in court.
Acting as the state’s election’s commissioners, Gov. Phil Bryant, Attorney General Jim Hood and Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann set ballots Tuesday for Senate District 19 and House District 52. Those seats opened when two Republicans, Sen. Merle Flowers, R-Southaven, and Rep. Tommy Woods, R-Byhalia, resigned earlier this year.
The officials say the U.S. Department of Justice didn’t approve new legislative districts until after qualifying opened, making it impractical to use the new lines that lawmakers redrew during the 2012 legislative sessions. Federal officials or a federal court must approve all election changes in Mississippi and other southern states under the 1965 Voting Rights Act, because of the state’s history of discrimination against black voters.
“Generally, our office has followed a policy that the new lines are it, unless as a practical matter they can’t be used,” Hood said. “It would be best to have this special election on the old lines. Now, we may get sued.”
Hosemann said he felt it was proper to use the old lines because all other lawmakers now serving were elected using those districts.
“We’re really electing somebody for the expired term of Senator Flowers,” Hosemann said of the Senate candidates. Using new district lines could bolster the case that all 174 House and Senate districts need elections under the new lines. Though lawmakers didn’t have to run for short terms in redrawn districts after the 2000 Census, they were forced to do so after the 1990 Census.
Using the new lines could have also excluded some of the candidates who qualified. Because of population growth, Senate District 19 got smaller.
In the Senate race, the four candidates will be medical businessman and DeSoto County Republican Chairman Kevin Blackwell, Republican state Rep. Pat Nelson, optometrist and Republican David Parker, and teacher and former DeSoto County Democratic Party official Mike Smith. Parker lives in Olive Branch while the other three live in Southaven.
In the House race, three Republicans are seeking Woods’ old seat: contractor Jeremy Bryan of Barton, Marshall County planning board member Bill Kinkade of Byhalia and Van Wicker of Olive Branch.
Both non-partisan elections take place Nov. 6, the same day voters cast ballots for president. The Senate race includes parts of DeSoto County, while the House race includes parts of DeSoto and Marshall counties.
If no one receives a majority in the legislative races, runoffs will be Nov. 27.