Early turnout light at city polls

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 1, 2001

Three-year-old Asia Marshall waits under the voting table as her grandmother, Patricia Carter, votes at the American Legion Post this morning. (The Vicksburg Post/MELANIE DUNCAN)

[05/01/01] Slow was the word used this morning at most of the Vicksburg’s 11 voting places to describe turnout for today’s primaries.

“It’s been very slow this morning,” said Fred Shields, manager at the Vicksburg Junior High School precinct where 29 people cast ballots in the first hour after polls opened. “In an hour, that ain’t good,” Shields said.

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Polling places will remain open until 7 p.m., for the primaries that give voters a first shot at deciding who will lead Vicksburg for the next four years.

Citywide, Democratic ballots include the names of mayoral hopeful Eric Rawlings, 38, and incumbent Mayor Robert Walker, 57. The nominee will face three independents in the June 5 general election.

At the precinct in Kings, one of the key battlegrounds for the mayoral candidates, voters this morning seemed divided between the two candidates.

“I voted for Mayor Walker,” said Huey Younger, a resident of Kings. “He has cleaned up a lot down here. He’s done a lot where I live”

The ballot in Kings also contained the race for alderman between two-term incumbent Gertrude Young and challengers Rodney Dillamar and Jo Pratt.

“I voted for Dillamar and Rawlings,” Jimmy Cotton said after casting his ballot at the Kings precinct. “I feel like it is time for a change and giving someone else the chance to do it is the right thing to do.”

It is the contest among Young, 45, Dillamar, 41, and Pratt, 67, that presents today’s only chance of a runoff. If none of the three gets more than half the votes cast today, the top two will be on ballots again May 15.

Kings manager Joanne Parks said that 20 ballots had been cast by 7:40, but that she expected turnout to improve later in the day.

At the city’s two largest precincts, City Auditorium and American Legion, poll managers were optimistic turnout would improve.

“We had some people waiting on us this morning, so it looks good so far,” precinct manager Emma McKenzie said at the American Legion. After 25 minutes of voting, 32 ballots had been cast, and McKenzie said she felt turnout would be heavy throughout the day.

After voting at American Legion this morning, Manel Bland said he didn’t think any particular race was more important than another.

“I always come out and vote because I think it is really important to do that,” Bland said.

At City Auditorium, manager Carla Jones said several people were waiting when the polls opened. In 15 minutes, 20 voters had marked their choices.

“I think it is going to be a good one today,” Jones said.

The highest turnout in the city this morning was at the Elks Lodge precinct, where 70 ballots had been cast in the first hour of voting. At the Elks Lodge and the other South Ward precincts, voters had to choose between the Democratic ballot that includes the mayor’s race and the Republican ballot, which has only the names of that party’s two candidates for alderman.

Elks manager Michael Lloyd said many voters had been confused about where to vote because of the recent flag vote. County and city polling places are not always the same and some residents will vote at a different precinct for the city elections.

“We’ve had a lot of confusion between voting for the flag and having to go somewhere else for the primary,” Lloyd said. “We had about 1,200 for the flag and unless something happens this will be even less.”

Ruth Gay, a Porters Chapel Road resident, said she and her husband, Pearson Gay, first went to the Plumbers and Pipefitters Hall where they voted in the flag election, but were sent to Porters Chapel United Methodist Church to vote.

“I just guess I didn’t see it in the paper that we are supposed to vote here,” she said.

Out of the ballots cast at the Elks Lodge, 18 voters chose the Republican ballot with the names of Sidney H. Beauman Jr., 53, and Sam Smith, 37, while 52 picked the Democratic ballot with the mayoral candidates and alderman hopefuls Pam Johnson, 35, and Carl Marshall Upton, 41.

While voters at the Elks Lodge appeared to be more interested in the mayoral candidates, voters at the Porters Chapel United Methodist Church precinct split evenly between the parties. Out of the 47 ballots cast by 8 a.m., 24 were Republican and 24 were Democrat.

“It has just really started. It has been a slow but steady stream,” said manager Sherman Hull.

At the Vicksburg Junior High School poll, only one voter out of 29 chose a Republican ballot in the first hour. At the Plumbers and Pipefitters Hall, five Republican ballots were cast in the first half hour.

“It’s been very slow this morning,” said manager Charles “Buster” Ford. “Very disappointing.”

At No. 7 Fire Station, no problems occurred today, as they had in the April 17 flag vote, but only five ballots had been cast in early voting.

“It should pick up very soon,” manager Sue Campbell said.

In the 1997 city primary election, 5,722, or about 36 percent of the eligible voters, went to the polls. Poll books list 17,407 names as eligible voters in today’s election.

Independent candidates will appear for the first time on the ballot for the June 5 general election. The winner of today’s mayoral primary will face Eva Marie Ford, 63, Laurence Leyens, 37, and Joe Loviza, 61, in the general election on June 5.

The nominee in the North Ward primary will face independent Sylvester Walker, 40, in the general election. In the South Ward primaries, both winners will advance to the city’s general election and face independents Vickie Bailey, 33, assistant director of the city’s Department of Youth Services, and Ashlea Mosley, 18.

To win a general election, a majority is not needed.