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Officials prepare for heavy voter turnout

Lincoln County election officials have started finalpreparations for what they anticipate will be a heavy voter turnoutNov. 2 to decide the country’s next president.

“We’re going to have poll worker training and workshops Mondaynight and Tuesday night,” said Circuit Clerk Terry LynnWatkins.

Following confusion in the 2000 presidential election andquestions about alleged voter intimidation issues in recent stateelections, officials are taking steps to minimize potentialproblems.

Secretary of State Eric Clark has sent election commissionersinformation on voting rules and regulations. Lincoln CountyElection Commission Chairman John Hightower said poll workers willbe briefed this week on new Voter ID requirements as well aspossible voter intimidation tactics.

“The (precinct) bailiffs are just going to have to look out andkeep order,” Hightower said. “I don’t think we’ll have anyproblems.”

Some voters will be asked to show identification when they go tothe polls Nov. 2.

Watkins and Hightower said poll books will have a notation toinstruct poll workers to ask for identification. They did notanticipate any problems stemming from citizens who registered tovote by mail.

“It’s only first-time mail-in voters who will have to show ID,”Watkins said.

The election has already generated a significant amount of earlyvoter interest. Watkins said close to 700 people had voted viaabsentee ballot.

In addition to normal hours Monday through Friday, the circuitclerk’s office will be open Saturday, Oct. 30, from 8 a.m. untilnoon for absentee voting. Oct. 30 is the last day to vote absenteein the clerk’s office.

Watkins also reported an influx of several hundred peopleregistering to vote before the Oct. 1 deadline this year.

She said that was indicative of high voter interest. Also, thenew registrants included an unusual number of older citizens.

“Usually when we have a big number like that, it’s youngerpeople,” Watkins said. “But that wasn’t the case this time.”

Watkins said Lincoln County now has 26,127 registeredvoters.

“We’re hoping for and looking for a big turnout,” Watkins said.”I’m going to be disappointed if we don’t have one.”

In addition to president, Lincoln County voters will be makingchoices in a few other contests.

Incumbent Third District U.S. Rep. Chip Pickering, a Republican,faces Independent Jim Giles and Reform Party candidate Lamonica L.Magee. Democrats did not field a candidate for the office.

In another multi-county district race, Court of Appeals JudgeJoe Lee faces appointed state Supreme Court Justice Mike Randolphfor the right to represent the southern district on the state highcourt bench. The district includes 27 counties.

In Lincoln County, election commissioners will be chosen.Hightower, Mike Byrne, Floye McClelland and Charles Smith, ofDistricts 1-4 respectively, are unopposed while District FiveElection Commissioner Lee Warren faces a challenge from RobertMartin.

Michael F. Posey is unopposed for the District Five seat on theLincoln County School Board. Brenda Warren, Loyd Star’s currentrepresentative, did not seek re-election.

Aside from the presidential race, a ballot measure generatingthe most attention is a proposed state constitutional amendment toban gay marriage.

Watkins said she has had a lot of calls regarding the amendment.Mostly, the calls have been about how one should vote depending ontheir position on the issue.

Those who believe marriage should be recognized as being onlybetween a man and a woman should vote yes. Those who supportallowing same-sex marriages should vote no.

“We don’t want anybody confused,” Watkins said.

As indicated by election polls, Watkins expects the presidentialrace between Republican President George W. Bush and DemocraticSen. John Kerry to be very close. Watkins said every vote willcount and people need to get out an exercise their rights.

“People need to realize this will be a close election and theyneed to get out and support their candidate,” Watkins said.

Watkins also commented on the negative tone of the election andhow the candidates have conducted themselves.

“I hope people won’t let that keep them from voting,” Watkinssaid.