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Election work moving ahead despite ballot delay

The recent state level squabble over the placement of the U.S.Senate special election on the Nov. 4 ballot delayed ballotapproval and subsequently election preparations altogether.

While poll worker training and other preparations are onschedule, the delivery of absentee ballots is about two weeksbehind, said Lincoln County Circuit Clerk Terry Lynn Watkins.

Thankfully, Watkins said, the situation has not been urgent. Shesaid approximately 200 county residents have requested absenteeballots, but the lack of ballots has not caused any major problemswith those who may be traveling or working out of town on Nov.4.

And there’s a backup plan. Watkins said her office can print aballot from the Statewide Elections Management System – a statewidevoting network – for anyone who has to leave the county immediatelyand will not be back to vote on Nov. 4.

Anyone who must vote in this manner will be required to voteimmediately, but Watkins said the ballot and the races on it arepretty much set in stone. Specially printed absentee ballots areofficial, she said, but must be counted by hand on electionnight.

Watkins said there are normally 1,200 to 1,500 county residentswho vote absentee in presidential elections. The biggest segment ofabsentee voters are traveling and offshore workers, she said.

“We have a lot of boilermakers and offshore workers who voteabsentee when they know they’re going to be gone,” she said.

Another large group of traditional absentee voters in LincolnCounty are college students. Watkins said her offices mails out “agood many” absentee ballots to Oxford, Starkville and Hattiesburgevery four years to accommodate students who will not be able toreturn home and visit the polls because the election is held on aTuesday.

Still more absentee ballots are shipped in bulk to area nursinghomes, Watkins said, for residents who are physically unable tovisit the county polling places.

Watkins said most of the absentee voting done in Lincoln Countyoccurs at her office on the final two Saturdays before theelection, which will be Oct. 25 and Nov. 1 this year. Thecourthouse will be open from 8 a.m. until noon on those Saturdays,by law, specifically to accommodate absentee voters, she said.

“We have a lot of people who wait til the last minute to vote,”she said.

While counties wait for the official ballots to be shipped tothem from the printer – which Watkins said could be another twoweeks – other election preparations are continuing as planned.

Watkins said Lincoln County would begin training poll workersfor its 32 precincts starting Wednesday. The two-week trainingperiod will instruct 64 bailiffs and box managers on their pollduties and will be followed by in the coming weeks by precinctclerks.

Watkins said each precinct is required by law to have at leastthree poll workers – a bailiff, box manager and at least one clerk- but most precincts will have more. Lincoln County will have 92poll workers at the very least on Nov. 4.

While the county government prepares for the election, residents- especially the young ones – are doing likewise.

“We are really having people come in to register to vote,” shesaid. “The majority are first-time voters.”

Watkins said many newly turned 18-year-olds have registered tocast their votes in their first election, and there should be moreto come before the registration deadline next Friday.

Watkins said Copiah-Lincoln Community College’s Phi Theta Kappahonor society has been conducting a registration drive throughoutSeptember and recently turned in 56 forms to her office.

Further registration forms have been sent to all county and cityhigh schools, Watkins said, to ensure that anyone of age will havea chance to register and vote.

Even 17-year-olds who will turn 18 before the Nov. 4 electionmay register, she said.