Voters line up to decide state flag’s future
Hiriam Bowlin is handed a flag ballot by poll worker Gertrude Harris at the American Legion Post 3 Tuesday morning. (The Vicksburg Post/MELANIE DUNCAN)
[04/17/01] Mississippi’s flag debate culminates Tuesday as voters decide whether to keep the last state banner with a prominent Confederate cross.
In Warren County, voters lined up outside of polls Tuesday morning waiting to cast their ballots in the state’s historic vote in which they are being asked to choose between the 1894 flag with the Confederate emblem in the upper left quadrant or a new banner with 20 white stars on a blue square, denoting Mississippi’s role as the 20th state. Mississippi is the only state that continues to display a Confederate battle emblem as part of its flag.
Although there was a steady stream of voters at most of the county’s 22 precincts, turnout did not indicate there would be as many votes cast as were in November’s presidential election. In that election, 18,371 ballots were cast in Warren County.
Poll books list 31,370 people as eligible county voters, and about 559 cast absentee ballots for this election, according to the Warren County Circuit Clerk’s Office.
At the county’s biggest precinct, Culkin, about 100 voters lined up outside the old school waiting to let their opinion on the issue be known. In the first half hour of voting, about 130 ballots had been cast and a steady stream of voters was making its way in to mark ballots.
“I think it’s going to be a really good turnout,” said Precinct Manager Marjorie Ameen. “People feel really passionately one way or the other about this.”
Voters were also reported lined up outside precincts in nearby Rankin and Hinds counties. Heavy voting was also reported along the Gulf Coast.
Ballots list the 1894 flag as Proposition A and the new design as Proposition B.
In Bovina, the debate over the flag sent 26 voters to the polls in the first 10 minutes. In the last election, 717 voters cast ballots at Bovina.
“I voted for Proposition “B” because I think it may help bring more jobs to Mississippi,” Mary Taylor said after casting her ballot.
“I voted for Proposition “A” because of my heritage. I had four great-grandfathers who fought in the Civil War,” voter Genie Nussbaum said.
Across town at Vicksburg Auditorium, 30 voters had been in during the first 20 minutes. A line had formed outside before the polls opened, said precinct manager Carla Jones.
“I have looked at a flag for 50 years that doesn’t represent me, and I think it is time for a change,” voter Jackie Winger said. “If I can contribute one part to that then that is important.”
Cedar Grove manager O.A. Williams said he expected turnout to be light throughout the day and that the flag would not be changed. During the first hour Tuesday morning, 35 people cast ballots at the precinct that drew 668 in the last election.
“If every black person in the state of Mississippi voted to change the flag, it still wouldn’t be enough,” Williams said. However, major white-dominated groups including the Mississippi Economic Council, casino operators, tourism directors, ministers, university presidents and others have endorsed change.
Voters Theo and Josie Williams said they hope more people would vote as the day went on but would not make any predictions about the outcome. “It looks like it is going to be close,” Josie Williams said. “A lot are going to stay home.”
Supporters of the old flag see it as a tie to heritage, while others say it is forever tainted by racist groups. They argue keeping that flag will isolate Mississippi from mainstream America.
At the Elks Lodge precinct on U.S. 61 South, voter Betty Smith said she voted to keep the current banner because she doesn’t like the new design. Voter Joyce Vance said she felt changing the flag would be a waste of money.
“Most people probably didn’t even know what the state flag was and I would rather have seen the money go to the schools to benefit future generations,” Vance said. “It’s time to stop making changes and get on with the future.”
About 65 people had cast ballots at Elks during the first 30 minutes. In the last election, 1,431 people voted there.
“We had several (five or six) waiting for us to open the door this morning,” said poll manager Jean Sturgis.
About 1,000 voted at that precinct in the last election.
The only polling problem reported in Warren County was at the No. 7 Fire Station where the first ballot was cast at 7 a.m. exactly, but the voting machine didn’t work and the ballot was stuck inside.
Voters two and three marked their ballots at 7:02 and voters four and five arrived at 7:10 to await help to fix the machine.
“I really expected more people, but the vote looks light,” poll manager Sue Campbell said.
The voting machine was fixed and 12 had voted by 7:30 a.m. Last year 457 cast ballots there.
At other precincts, 98 votes were recorded by 7:50 at the Moose Lodge on Fisher Ferry Road where 983 were cast in the last election. At the American Legion Post on Monroe Street, 19 people had voted in the first half hour where 1,255 voted last November.
“It has been kind of slow but I really think it is going to pick up as the day goes on,” said precinct manager Lurline Green.