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Voting heavy across Warren County, state

Three-year-old Gabriel Bowman patiently waits for her mother, Zanetta Bowman, as she votes at the Plumbers & Pipefitters Union precinct off North Frontage Road this morning. Polls close at 7 tonight.(Melanie Duncan Thortis The Vicksburg Post)

[11/4/03]Turnout was heavy across Warren County this morning, but one disagreement involving poll watchers was reported shortly after polls opened at 7 for voting in today’s general election.

At the American Legion precinct on Monroe Street, poll watchers and poll workers clashed during the first hour of voting. About 100 ballots had been cast while representatives of the Warren County Election Commission and Warren County Republican party sorted out the problems.

“These are little things,” said Karoline Finch, chairman of the Republican party committee. “But, they could be important to one of these candidates.”

A disagreement between watchers and workers began after poll watchers representing the Republican party noticed the envelope containing absentee ballots had been opened. Those ballots, which are cast in advance of the election by voters who will be out of the county today, are supposed to be sealed until after polls close at 7 tonight.

Poll workers said it was a mistake, but poll watchers said it was the start of more conflict.

“They’ve been abusive to us every time we move,” said Frances Drake, a poll watcher at the American Legion.

Poll watchers are allowed to stand close enough to tables to hear conversations between workers and voters, but are only allowed to approach the table when there are no voters present. Nearly every election there are disagreements about what distance watchers should stay from the voters.

“All I’m here to do is to see to it that the election process works properly,” Drake said.

The problems between the poll watchers and poll workers were resolved by 8 a.m. and precinct manger Lillie Flagg said she expected it to be a busy day because of the number of races being decided in today’s election.

“It’s started off good and with a ballot this big there will be a lot of people today,” Flagg said.

The weather was fair, with sunny skies and temperatures in the low 60s, predicted to rise to the mid-80s by the afternoon and no rain in the forecast. With that forecast and competitive races, election officials had made advance predictions of strong turnout.

Beechwood poll manager Jean Sturgis said a long line of voters was waiting to vote there when it opened.

“I am just so happy to see this many come out this early,” she said. “What will we get before the end of the day?

“This is the best turnout we’ve ever had.”

Diane Pennington, poll manager for the Culkin precinct, said about 50 people were waiting to vote when the polls opened at 7 a.m. And by 7:30 a.m., 80 people had voted, with about 65 waiting in line.

Pennington attributed the turnout to the governor’s race, which has Democratic incumbent Ronnie Musgrove facing opposition from Republican Haley Barbour.

She expected voter traffic to slow down by mid-morning and pick back up later in the afternoon.

At the Bovina precinct, poll manager Mark Chaney reported having about 60 voters by 7:30, many more than usual, he said.

“We’ve had people standing in line, and hopefully it will stay that way,” Chaney said.

He said voter turnout typically depends on the election.

“We’ve got good weather and a lot of interest in both state and local offices,” he said.

Each voter was to have on his ballot the appropriate ones of this year’s 27 contested and seven uncontested races for county, district or state offices serving all or part of Warren County.

The pieces of paper on which this election’s ballots were printed were “the largest we’ve ever had,” said election commission chairman James McMullin, adding that larger cardboard boxes had to be ordered to transport the ballots from polling places back to the courthouse after the election.

At the Cedar Grove precinct poll this morning, manager O.A. Williams said the ballots deposited in counting-machine receptacles would be re-stacked under the watch of poll-watchers every 100 or so votes to prevent jamming of subsequently deposited ballots.

About 30 people had voted there in the first 30 minutes the poll was open.

“I think from particular voting situations that’s a little slow,” Williams said. “But that might pick up I’m expecting it to. I’m expecting a big turnout.”

At the Kings precinct, about 8 to 10 people were in line to vote at 7 a.m., manager Joann Parks said.

“The way it seems I believe it’s going to be real good,” Parks said of the turnout in the precinct, which has about 1,425 of the county’s 33,207 registered voters. The county has 22 voting precincts.

Voters there, as in other precincts around the county, were split into sub-precincts that took effect with the Aug. 5 party primary elections. Poll workers were still adjusting to the changes, but no problems were reported, Parks said.

Unlike the previous primary election, when only two voters were in line to vote as the polls opened at Number 7 Fire Station, 10 voters were waiting to cast their ballots today. And by 7:15 a.m. 19 ballots had been pushed through the voting machine with all five booths filled with voters. One man “over-voted” and the machine turned it out.

“We have never had this many people waiting to vote this early in the morning,” longtime poll worker Joylene Oaks said.

Bailiff John Smith predicted at least 350 to 400 voters would cast their ballots at Number 7.

“This election is a lot more important than the past ones. With all the mud-slinging, bickering and controversy, theyre gonna vote.”

At the Plumbers and Pipefitters Union Local 619 voting precinct, 52 people had voted by 7:52 a.m.

“We had them stacked out the door,” poll manager Sid Tucker said of the line of voters waiting when the door opened.

He expected a high voter turnout.

“I think we’re going to do pretty good today,” he said. “We’re looking for a good turnout.

Mark Armstrong, Laurin Stamm, Fred Messina, Laura Hough and Robbie Ward contributed to this report.