Low turnout blamed on lack of competitive races

Published 10:25 am Monday, May 8, 2017

The lack of a contested race for South Ward alderman and no Republican primary may have been the reason for a low voter turnout for Tuesday’s election, two incumbent elected officials said.

In all, just 24 percent of the city’s registered voters turned out to select incumbents Mayor George Flaggs and North Ward Alderman Michael Mayfield trounce their Democratic primary challengers.

Flaggs defeated two challengers in the primary for Mayor, while Mayfield beat one. South Ward Alderman Willis Thompson was unopposed in the primary.

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His opponent in the June 6 general election, Republican State Dist. 54 Rep. Alex Monsour was also unopposed, and is the only Republican candidate for city office.

Tuesday’s situation was similar to the city’s 2009 primary, when 3,108 voters, or 23 percent of the registered voters at the time, cast ballots. The only contested race was the Democratic primary for mayor. Mayfield and former South Ward Alderman Sid Beauman were both unopposed that year.

Both this year and 2009 are a stark contrast to the 2013 and 2005 primary elections, in which all three elected offices were contested.

In 2013, the 5,185 voters, or 31 percent of the registered voters at the time, turned out to vote in the primary.

The Democratic primaries featured six candidates for mayor, four for North Ward alderman and two for South Ward alderman. There was also a Republican primary for the party nomination for South Ward.

The 2005 Democratic primary, in which 4,169 voters participated, featured contested races for mayor and North and South Ward alderman.

“The numbers were down probably because you didn’t have a Republican primary in the South Ward,” Flaggs said. “My numbers showed there was a higher number of turnout in the North Ward, but the South Ward was low because you didn’t have a challenge (contested election).”

He added there was also confusion about two voting precincts in the city at the American Legion precinct “and some folks thought Travelers Rest (Baptist Church) was a city precinct and it’s not; it’s a county precinct. A lot of folks got discouraged about that.”

Mayfield believes the lack of a contested race in the South Ward may have affected the turnout in that area, “But I don’t think it affected (the turnout) citywide.”

“If you don’t have contested races citywide, you’re always going to have certain sections of the city where the people are nonchalant (about voting).”

Also, he said, the lack of a Republican primary also may have kept some voters home, affecting the turnout.

A breakdown of the vote by precinct compared with the number of registered voters in each district’s largest precincts indicated Flaggs’ and Mayfield’s opinions about the lack of a race in the south affecting the turnout may have merit.

At the No. 5 Fire Station precinct, the largest in the South Ward with 1,568 registered voters, only 278, or 17.8 percent, cast votes.

At the Elks Lodge, the precinct’s second largest, 360 voters, or 23.4 percent of its 1,540 registered voters cast ballots.

The American Legion Post 3 precinct, the largest in the North Ward, had 641 voters, or 22.6 percent of the precincts 2,838 register voters, vote.

At the Vicksburg Auditorium, the North Ward’s second largest precinct, 380, or 26 percent, of the precinct’s 1,459 registered voters cast ballots.

Mayfield said the small turnout was very surprising.

“To say that you had those many people running, you would have thought that there would be a lot more people involved in the process. You would have thought everybody would have wanted to be involved, regardless of which party you were with.”

Polls open at 7 a.m. on Tuesday, June 6 for the general election and close at 7 p.m.

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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