In recent weeks, various pundits in Mississippi have begun to speculate about what some have called the upcoming "beauty contest" - that is, the Mississippi election in 2011 to determine who will succeed Haley Barbour as Mississippi's next Governor. In years past many statewide candidates trying to raise money to fund their "down-ticket" races for offices such as Treasurer, Insurance Commissioner or Auditor, have lamented that donors were only interested in giving money to their favorite candidate in the "beauty contest" - which does aptly describe the fact that, indeed, the Governor's race is the "main event" in the quadrennial statewide elections.
At this juncture, it appears that both the Democrats and the Republicans will stage healthy primary elections for Governor in 2011, with credible candidates that will stir the interest of the party faithful and lead to a clear choice between traditional Democratic and Republican values. However, there has been some speculation that prominent "wild-card" candidates might enter the race as independents or representing minor political parties, which could force the election of Mississippi's next Governor to be decided by the state house of representatives if the leading candidate in the November, 2011, general election fails to receive over fifty per cent (50%) of the votes cast.
According to Article 5, Section 140 of the MISSISSIPPI CONSTITUTION OF 1890, "The person found to have received a majority of all the electoral votes, and also a majority of the popular vote, shall be declared elected." However, Article 5, Section 141 then says "If no person shall receive such majorities, then the house of representatives shall proceed to choose a governor from the two persons who shall have received the highest number of popular votes . . . by VIVA VOCE vote . . . ." Section 140 of Article 5, of the Constitution, which was amended in 1982, states that persons receiving the highest number of votes in a legislative district of the house of representatives are awarded "electoral votes" for as many votes in the house of representative as that legislative district is entitled to receive.
The 1999 race between Democratic Lieutenant Governor Ronnie Musgrove and Republican Congressman Mike Parker was the closest gubernatorial race in Mississippi history. Out of almost three quarters of a million votes cast, Musgrove won 8300 more votes than Parker in a four-way election, but fell a fraction of a percentage point short of receiving a majority, as required by Mississippi's Constitution. Since neither candidate received a majority of the popular vote, the Mississippi House of Representatives had to select the winner. They chose Musgrove - the first time in modern history the election of a Mississippi governor was decided by members of the Legislature.
It is noteworthy that Article 5, Section 143 of Mississippi's Constitution also says that . . . "[a]ll other state officers shall be elected at the same time, and in the same manner as provided for election of governor". Mississippi has eight (8) "state officers" who are elected by a statewide vote, namely: Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of State, Attorney General, Treasurer, Auditor, Insurance Commissioner, and Commissioner of Agriculture. The upcoming November, 2011, state elections in Mississippi will be held at a time when the mood of the electorate (reflective of the national mood) is one of anger, frustration and unpredictability. Numerous third-party candidates will likely enter the fray, and they will likely get a substantial number of votes. For example, candidates from the right-of-center Libertarian Party (Ron Paul followers) have been consistently receiving at least one (1) percent of the vote in Mississippi elections where that Party has fielded candidates for some time now.
If the third party candidates in Mississippi's 2011 elections gain sufficient votes to deny the front runner a majority of the popular vote and/or the electoral vote in 2011, the legislators who are members of the state's house of representatives will decide the winner. There are 72 Democrats and 50 Republicans presently serving as members of the House. If such an election were held today by voice vote in that legislative body, the presiding officer of the meeting would be the Speaker of the House - Democrat Billy McCoy.