Republicans Gain Edge With Vote to Unseat Mississippi Democrat

JAN. 20, 2016

ATLANTA — First, the re-election bid of State Representative Blaine Eaton II of Mississippi ended in a statistically improbable tie. Then — bizarrely, but in keeping with Mississippi statute — the outcome was decided by a drawing of straws, which he won.

But on Wednesday evening, Mr. Eaton’s luck appeared to run out, as the veteran Democratic lawmaker was removed from office by a Republican-dominated House, on the grounds that at least five of the votes in his favor should not have been counted.

The outcome was more than the culmination of a quirky political tale. With the vote, which replaces Mr. Eaton with his Republican rival, Mark Tullos, the Republican Party gains a supermajority in the Mississippi House, which is the threshold to pass revenue related bills.


Mississippi Republicans also control the Senate and governor’s seat, and with their new power, Republican lawmakers are expected to push for a number of tax-cut proposals, versions of which Democrats were able to block in the past.

The 67-to-49 vote, mostly along partisan lines, was in support of a special committee report that favored seating Mr. Tullos by a 4-to-1 partisan vote. It was bound to cause rancor and suspicion in a state where most whites vote Republican and most blacks vote Democratic, and where memories of the routine suppression of the black vote still linger. The rhetoric from Democrats before and after the final voting was impassioned.

“The law delivered a clear winner, yet House Republicans chose to disenfranchise voters for political gain,” Ouida Meruvia, a spokeswoman for the Mississippi Democratic Party, said in an email after the vote.

Though Democrats disputed the assertion, Representative Mark Baker, a white Republican who served as the committee chairman, said that “the law is clear on the matter” of who really won the Nov. 3 race, originally certified as a tie of 4,589 votes apiece

At issue, Mr. Baker said, were five votes that were deemed “affidavit,” or provisional ballots, given to voters whose names do not appear on the poll books. Those five votes, he said, were filed by people whose votes should not be counted because they had not complied, as he saw it, with a section of Mississippi voting law. That section says a voter who moves from precinct to precinct in the same county, and within 30 days of the election, “shall be entitled to have his or her registration transferred” to the new precinct if the person files a written notice of the change with the local clerks’ office.

Democrats pushed back against the idea that a vote should be invalidated just because a person did not register a written change of address.“Ladies and gentleman, this is a trumped-up report that is based on trumped up law,” said Rep. Linda F. Coleman, an African-American Democrat.

Mr. Eaton, who is known as Bo, also spoke to the House before the vote. A white farmer from rural Taylorsville who takes pride in his folksy speaking style, he had also earned a reputation as a moderate in his roughly two decades in the House.

He said that his fate reminded him of a neighbor’s dog who had been named Lucky despite many misfortunes that had left the creature disfigured.

He also spoke of what he said was Mr. Tullo’s agreement to go through with the drawing of straws in a ceremony in Jackson on Nov. 20, a day after he filed a petition with the House to contest the election.

“When a man makes a deal, in my mind, a deal’s a deal,” Mr. Eaton said.

Mr. Tullos could not be reached for comment.