Election drawing little interest

Published 5:00 am Friday, September 29, 2006

Not only does interest statewide in the Nov. 7 general electionfor judicial and U.S. congressional offices seem to be lacking, butmany citizens of Southwest Mississippi aren’t even aware of them,according to local officials.

In her efforts to bring the new touch-screen voting machines tothe public for training, Circuit Clerk Terry Lynn Watkins said shehas been confronted with not only a lack of interest, but also alack of knowledge.

“A lot of people don’t even know we have an election this year.They are asking about next year’s elections,” she said. “I don’tthink people tend to get real involved in a race like the Court ofAppeals.”

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November elections will feature 15th Chancery Court DistrictJudge Ed Patten, of Hazlehurst, against seven opponents for thepost of Court of Appeals District 4 Position 1. Patten is unopposedfor re-election to his present judicial position, which coversLincoln and Copiah counties.

Fellow appeals court candidate Larry Buffington, of Collins, isalso unopposed in his re-election bid to the Chancery CourtDistrict 13 Place 1 judge post.

Also on the ballot are state Rep. Virginia Carlson of Columbia,Bryant Chaffin of Hattiesburg, Pat J. McNamara Jr. of Jackson,Richard Grindstaff of Byram and Scott Phillips of Columbia.

The Court of Appeals District 4 includes all or parts of 15counties. Counties in the district are Adams, Amite, Copiah,Covington, Franklin, Hinds, Jefferson Davis, Jones, Lawrence,Lincoln, Marion, Pike, Simpson, Walthall and Wilkerson.

Appeals court judges serve eight-year terms. Chancery judgesserve four-year terms.

The appeals court race generated some early statewide interestwhen a small controversy erupted over sitting judges seeking higheroffice while campaigning to retain their present posts. Thecontroversy, which centered around Patten and Buffington,apparently did not spark concerns here, Watkins said.

“I haven’t heard anyone comment to me on that one way or theother,” she said.

However, Watkins said she does believe Patten’s bid for theappellate court will increase interest as election day draws nearerand candidates increase their advertising in the media to reach thepublic.

“I think Judge Patten’s candidacy in the appeals race will drawmore interest in a few more weeks,” she said. “And, as time passes,I think the candidates will be more visible.”

If necessary in the appeals court race, a runoff between the twocandidates receiving the most votes will be held Nov. 21, Watkinssaid.

Should Patten or Buffington win the appellate judge race, anappointment would be made and a special election would be scheduledfor the chancery race at a later date.

In other area judicial activity, Monticello attorney Joe DaleWalker and Deborah Kennedy, of Mize, will challenge each other forthe newly-created Chancery Court District 13 Place 2 position.

Mississippi judicial races are nonpartisan.

Several local U.S. congressional races will also be featured onthe general election ballot.

Incumbent U.S. Sen. Trent Lott, R-Pascagoula, will be challengedby Democrat Erik Fleming, of Clinton, and Libertarian Harold M.Taylor, of Nesbit.

Incumbent Third District Congressman Chip Pickering, R-Brandon,will face Jim Giles, an independent from Pearl.

The general election will only be the second time the state’snew touch-screen voting machines will be placed in the precinctpolling places. The first was during the primaries in June, whenthe state, and Lincoln County, recorded a dismal turnout of around2 percent of the registered voters.

“It’s a sad commentary on the election, but I’ve had some peopletell me the machines are why they went to vote in June,” Watkinssaid. “I hope they will continue to draw voters, but I really hopethe races themselves will draw more people to the polls.”

This year’s general election may not be garnering much interest,but Watkins said she has already received a few calls aboutqualifying dates for next year’s county and state offices.

Qualifying for those offices opens Jan. 2 and lasts throughMarch, she said.