Turnout light in early voting across state|[11/06/07]

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Predictions by the Secretary of State’s Office of a lower turnout statewide for this year’s general election held true this morning in most Warren County precincts as cooler temperatures greeted some voters still dressed for the summer.

Outside the Culkin precinct at Sherman Avenue Elementary, the line of hardy souls who braved cool, brisk winds multiplied quickly — from six to 36 when doors opened at 7 a.m. — but nowhere near the 80 people who cast ballots there as polls opened in 2003.

Still, issues were crystal-clear to those casting votes in the precinct likely to decide races for state representative in District 54 and District 1 county supervisor.

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“I want to see Haley Barbour stay in,” said Lake Forest resident Jim Chamblee, adding education and taxes were foremost on his mind this election day.

Though voting “person and not party” was his usual voting pattern, Chamblee said he was voting a “straight Republican ticket.” That includes incumbent supervisor David McDonald, who hurriedly took down signs beneath campaign tents set up just beyond the school parking lot in advance of polls opening. Also at the spot were McDonald’s challenger, Margaret Gilmer, and House District 54 candidate Alex Monsour and Tax Assessor Richard Holland.

Vote-rich and vocal in local elections historically, the precinct proved crucial to McDonald in Republican primary voting in August when the two-term incumbent defeated John Arnold by just 17 votes out of 1,979 cast. The deciding votes were cast by absentee voters. Culkin also proved weighted when it gave Monsour a heavy boost in his primary win over Ryan Sadler.

McDonald, a Republican, is opposed by Gilmer and Tony Ford, both independents.

An issue not likely to go away, recent spikes in fuel prices nationwide felt in Vicksburg recent weeks, was also on the minds of many mingling near the door when asked about statewide and legislative races — one where adjusting fuel taxes and not prices are the lone avenue of action.

“I want to know why it’s always cheaper other places,” said Pat Chambers, first in Culkin’s growing line of early voters.

Monsour is opposed by independent Thomas Setser and Democrat Jennifer Thomas for the seat, encompassing most of Warren County’s non-municipal population. The county’s state Senate District 23 is sought by Republican Briggs Hopson III and Democrat Eric Rawlings. It also covers Issaquena and southwest Yazoo County.

In the city, Rep. George Flaggs, D-Vicksburg, is being challenged by Republican Rick McAlister in the House District 55 race. It covers all of central and north Vicksburg, extending north to the Eagle Lake community.

Secretary of State Eric Clark, who is not seeking another term, said turnout will be higher than most statewide years in Mississippi, but less than the record 894,487 votes cast in 2003, when then-Gov. Ronnie Musgrove was bounced from office by Barbour.

“And that big turnout is what carried me in,” Barbour said at an election rally last week. “We’ve got to have a big turnout.”

Clark predicted about 825,000 people will vote Tuesday.

Polls are open from 7 a.m.-7 p.m. statewide. Warren County election results can be viewed as they become available on the county’s Web site, www.co.warren.ms.us, Circuit Clerk Shelly Ashley-Palmertree said.

In his re-election campaign against Democrat John Arthur Eaves, Barbour has touted his record whipping the state budget into shape, limiting lawsuit awards and pulling in billions in federal dollars for the state’s recovery from Hurricane Katrina.

One local precinct, however, bucked morning trends seen every four years. Bovina precinct manager Mark Chaney said 100 votes came in by 8 a.m.

“That’s a new record here,” he said. “For us, that’s pretty good.”

Other precincts reported turnouts in keeping with areas not having a county supervisor race, such as those in city-based District 3.

Respectively, precincts at No. 7 Fire Station, Vicksburg Junior High and American Legion reported 10 and 20 votes cast by 7:30 a.m. It went much the same at Kings, where 10 votes were tallied by 7:30 a.m.

American Legion voter Ameen Al’Islam, 59, was at the polls to “make a difference.”

“If you’re dissatisfied with something, you have an opportunity to voice your opinion,” he said.

“I’ve been voting since I was 18,” said Anissia Carter, an early voter at Kings. “You can’t say anything if you don’t vote. I’m just here to make sure the right people get in.”

Totals were hard to come by there and at Elks Lodge on U.S. 61 South, as poll workers are getting their first taste of managing a full-scale general election with the touch-screen voting machines purchased by most Mississippi counties from the state in 2005.

“The only thing with these machines is it takes time to run all the reports,” Kings poll manager John Shorter said.

Elks Lodge is one of four precincts in southwest Warren County that will decide a hotly contested District 4 supervisor race, where incumbent Carl Flanders is opposed by fellow independent and former supervisor Bill Lauderdale and Republican C.L. “Buddy” Hardy.

Charlie and Joan Trahan said support for Lauderdale in that contest and for Barbour drew them to vote. “We see it as our duty and priority to vote,” Joan Trahan said.

Other contested supervisor races are in northwestern District 2 and the southeastern District 5. District 2 Supervisor William Banks faces independent Tommie Rawlings. District 5 Supervisor Richard George faces fellow independents Robert Hubbard and Kenneth Sharp, Republican Joe Wooley and Democrat Frank Gardner.

Eaves, who has never held elected office, says he wants to set aside time in public schools each day for voluntary, student-led prayer. He also said Mississippi remains on the bottom of many national rankings for education, health and other quality-of-life issues.

“This governor has painted a rosy picture, but he’s only telling half-truths,” Eaves said in a recent interview. “We need a governor who serves the people not the powerful interests that have been taking advantage of Mississippi.”

Mississippi has a voting age population of nearly 2.1 million, but officials acknowledge that determining an exact number of registered voters is difficult because some counties have outdated rolls.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau estimates in 2006, the total population of Mississippi is 2,910,540. Clark said turnout typically is highest during presidential election years. Nearly 1.2 million Mississippians voted in the 2004 presidential election.

He said his prediction is part science, part art: His office evaluates past election trends and current rates of absentee voting, plus subjective measures like “street talk” and the interest in statewide races.

Clark said the Department of Justice will send election observers to four counties: Wilkinson and Jeff Davis in south Mississippi and Humphreys and Leflore in the Delta. He said he didn’t know why those counties were chosen.

Eight statewide races and two districtwide contests for public service commissioner and transportation commissioner are on the ballot this year.

State Auditor Phil Bryant, a Republican, faces state Rep. Jamie Franks, D-Mooreville, for lieutenant governor. Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck is term-limited and chose not to seek another office.

State Sen. Stacey E. Pickering, R-Laurel, is running for Bryant’s office and is opposed by former Forrest County administrator Mike Sumrall.

As for Clark’s office, Republican Delbert Hosemann, one of four candidates with Vicksburg ties running for either statewide or district offices, faces former state legislator Rob Smith of Richland.

The others are Sen. Mike Chaney, R-Vicksburg, opposed by former state fiscal officer Gary Anderson for commissioner of insurance, and both Central District Transportation Commissioner Dick Hall and his opponent, Democrat Rudy Warnock.

Attorney General Jim Hood is one of just three statewide incumbents running for re-election. Hood faces Republican Al Hopkins of Gulfport in that race, while State Treasurer Tate Reeves faces perennial candidate Shawn O’Hara of Hattiesburg.

Commissioner of Agriculture Lester Spell, a Republican who was first elected as a Democrat, faces Democrat Rickey L. Cole of Jones County and Mississippi Constitution Party candidate Paul Leslie Riley. In the public service commissioner’s race in the 22-county central district, Republican Charles Barbour, a Hinds County supervisor, faces state Sen. Lynn Posey, D-Union Church, and Reform Party candidate Lee Dilworth.

Locally, two constable races are contested. Northern District Constable Glenn McKay, a Democrat, faces independent Eddie Hoover. In the Central District, interim constable James E. Jefferson Jr., a Republican, faces Democrat Randy Naylor.

Eleven local candidates on the county level will appear unopposed on ballots and can receive votes. They are Sheriff Martin Pace, Circuit Clerk Shelly Ashley-Palmertree, Chancery Clerk Dot McGee, Tax Collector Pat Simrall, County Attorney Richard Johnson, Coroner Doug Huskey, Northern District Justice Court Judge Eddie Woods, Southern District Justice Court Judge Joe Crevitt, Central District Justice Court Judge Richard Bradford and Southern District Constable John Henry Heggins.

District 3 Supervisor Charles Selmon won the Democratic nomination in August and drew no opposition for the general election.


The Associated Press and staff writers Laurin Stamm, Tom Hartwell, Nate Delesline III and Lauchlin Fields contributed to this story.