Limited Choices in Mississippi Legislative Elections Reflect a National Trend

by Gabriel Martinez
Electoral competition

Mississippi state Sen. Dean Kirby, who has served for over a decade, last faced a challenger in the Republican primary in 2003, where he secured victory with 70% of the vote. Since then, Kirby has run unopposed, a trend that continues in this year’s election. While the senator’s long-standing lack of competition is noteworthy, it is not unique within the state. Indeed, more than 80% of candidates for Mississippi’s legislature will run unopposed by any major party in the upcoming November 7 general election. Furthermore, over half of this year’s elected officials will have faced no competition from either Republicans or Democrats in both the primary and general elections.

Mississippi Senate president pro tem Kirby suggests that the lack of competition is due to general satisfaction with the state’s governance. However, Mississippi’s situation forms part of a broader national decline in electoral competition for state legislative seats. Recent research posits that the decline is not merely a result of voter contentment with sitting officials but also calls into question the effectiveness of American democratic accountability.

Steven Rogers, a political scientist specializing in state legislatures at Saint Louis University, observes that in some states, the lack of electoral competition is so severe that one party effectively gains control of the legislative chamber even before an election occurs. He emphasizes that a functioning democracy depends on voters having meaningful choices, which is undermined when no one steps up to run against incumbents.

Data collated by the non-profit organization Ballotpedia shows that the percentage of uncontested legislative seats in Mississippi has increased steadily, from 63% in 2011 to 85% in 2023. Additionally, seats without any competition from either major party in the primary or general elections have risen from 45% to 57% over the same period. According to Rogers’ research, the decline in legislative competition has been a prolonged trend, affecting many states since the early 1990s.

Multiple factors contribute to this decline, including political gerrymandering, which skews voting districts to favor one party. Rogers’ research shows that legislators are less likely to be challenged when their party holds a dominant majority in the chamber, when district lines favor one party, or when legislative salaries are low. Additionally, fewer challengers emerge when they belong to the same party as an unpopular sitting president. All these conditions are currently evident in Mississippi.

The national Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (DLCC) and other aligned groups have primarily focused their financial resources on competitive states, with minimal investment in states like Mississippi. For example, while the DLCC has spent $2.2 million on legislative races in Virginia, where both parties have viable paths to a majority, it has allocated only a few thousand dollars to races in Mississippi and Louisiana, which are largely uncompetitive.

Unlike Mississippi, Virginia has seen a decline in uncontested legislative races, dropping from 61% in 2011 to 28% in 2023, according to Ballotpedia. This change is attributed to newly redrawn district boundaries created by court-appointed experts, after a bipartisan commission failed to agree on a plan based on the 2020 census data.

In Mississippi, even when Democrats do secure victories, their winning districts are overwhelmingly packed with Democratic voters. This year, three Democratic lawmakers in the state will be succeeded by their sons in uncontested elections. Similarly, first-time Republican candidate Andy Berry has an unopposed path to the state Senate due to the incumbent’s retirement.

Berry, despite facing no competition, is still urging citizens to vote, highlighting the importance of civic participation. Yet, the lack of challengers makes driving voter turnout a considerable challenge.

Reported by Lieb from Jefferson City, Missouri.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Electoral competition

Why is there a lack of electoral competition in Mississippi’s legislative seats?

The lack of electoral competition in Mississippi is due to several factors, including political gerrymandering, low legislative salaries, and the overwhelming majority held by one political party in the legislature. Over 80% of legislative candidates in the state will run unopposed by any major party in the upcoming general election.

What does the decline in electoral competition imply for American democracy?

The decline in electoral competition raises questions about the effectiveness of democratic accountability in the United States. Without meaningful choices in elections, the ability of voters to hold their elected representatives accountable is compromised.

How does Mississippi’s situation compare to other states?

Mississippi represents an extreme example, but it is part of a broader national trend of declining electoral competition in state legislatures. Unlike Mississippi, some states like Virginia have seen a decrease in uncontested legislative races, offering voters more choice.

What role does political gerrymandering play in this decline?

Political gerrymandering, the practice of drawing voting districts to favor one political party, is one of the key factors contributing to the lack of electoral competition. It creates safe districts for incumbents, thereby discouraging potential challengers.

Are there any financial considerations affecting the decision to run for office?

Yes, one of the factors affecting electoral competition is the level of legislative salaries. In Mississippi, the legislative salary is $23,500, plus a daily expense allowance when lawmakers are at work. Lower salaries can dissuade potential candidates from running for office.

How have political organizations responded to this lack of competition?

Political organizations like the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (DLCC) have focused their financial resources on more competitive states, allocating only minimal funds to largely uncompetitive states like Mississippi and Louisiana.

What data sources were cited in the article to support its claims?

The article cites data from Ballotpedia, a nonprofit organization that tracks elections, and research by Steven Rogers, a political scientist at Saint Louis University, who has written a book on accountability in state legislatures.

More about Electoral competition

  • Ballotpedia’s Election Data
  • Steven Rogers’ Research on State Legislatures
  • Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (DLCC) Spending Report
  • Redistricting and Gerrymandering Overview
  • Voter Turnout Statistics
  • Mississippi Legislative Salaries and Allowances Report
  • Virginia’s Electoral Competition Data
  • Accountability in State Legislatures by Steven Rogers

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Rachel Davis October 30, 2023 - 12:41 am

It says a lot that this isn’t just a Mississippi problem, but a national one. Where’s the democracy we’re so proud of?

Emily Brown October 30, 2023 - 2:29 am

Gerrymandering is such a huge issue. It’s like the game’s rigged before it even starts. How’s that fair?

Tom Harris October 30, 2023 - 6:53 am

Man, politics these days. It’s not even about the people anymore, it’s all about holding onto power.

Mike Johnson October 30, 2023 - 8:29 am

So basically, if you’re in Mississippi, your vote might not even matter. Thats depressing.

John Smith October 30, 2023 - 2:44 pm

Wow, this is eye-opening. It really shows how our democracy is struggling. if there’s no competition, how can we hold our elected officials accountable?

Jane Doe October 30, 2023 - 5:46 pm

I can’t believe the salaries are so low for lawmakers in Mississippi. Just 23.5k? Maybe that’s why no one’s interested in running.

Sarah Williams October 30, 2023 - 6:50 pm

Interesting to compare Mississippi with Virginia. Why can’t all states have a more competitive political landscape?


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