Dismal turnout eyed for Tuesday primary

Published 6:00 pm Sunday, May 30, 2010

If 10,000 people show up to vote in Tuesday’s Democratic primaryelection, Lincoln County would pay $1 per vote to cover thecontest’s costs.

But that isn’t going to happen.

If only 5,000 people turn out at the polls, the county wouldfork out $2 per vote. That rate is kind of pricey for a freeAmerican right, but acceptable in the interests of democracy.

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But that’s highly unlikely to happen, either.

The unsettling truth about Tuesday’s election is that it’sshaping up to be one of the smallest Lincoln County has ever seen.And the smaller it is, the lesser the return on the investment oflocal tax dollars.

The election’s $10,000 price tag will likely translate into $10of local money invested in every single vote. That’s only ifCircuit Clerk Terry Lynn Watkins’ generous prediction of 1,000voters hitting the precincts comes true.

“I hate to be pessimistic, but in reality I don’t think we’regoing to have a very good turnout,” she said. “We mailed out 22absentee ballots to our list of permanently disabled voters, andwe’ve not had any returned.”

Tuesday’s ballot contains only three candidates vying for theDemocratic nomination to run against incumbent Republican GreggHarper for the right to represent Mississippi’s 3rd CongressionalDistrict.

Two of the candidates – Hattiesburg’s Shawn O’Hara and Pickens’Joel Gill – are perennial challengers who’ve collected only smallvote totals in recent defeats, and Brandon’s James D. Jackson isbasically unknown. Harper is expected to crush the winner in theNov. 2 general election, no matter who it may be.

Basically, there’s no reason for local Republicans to head tothe polls and not much reason for area Democrats to get excited.Watkins expects only hardcore Democrats to cast their votesTuesday.

“The candidates are just not well-known, therefore there’s justnot a lot of interest,” Watkins said.

For those voters who will take part in the election Tuesday,precincts will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., and anyone unsureabout where or how to vote may seek assistance from on-site pollworkers or call the circuit clerk’s office at 601-835-3435.

Watkins said the cost of Tuesday’s $10,000-$12,000 election ismostly tied up in poll workers’ pay.

With a mandated minimum of three poll workers at each votinglocation, 96 workers will be required to man the county’s 32precincts. It will cost approximately $8,000 just to pay the pollworkers for their 12-hour duties, with the remainder of the moneytied up in standard election supplies like pens and tablets.

Keeping the costs down was hard to do.

Watkins said she ordered only 25 affidavit ballots for each ofthe precincts, the minimum allowed under the law. She put in a callto the U.S. Department of Justice to see if paper ballots would beacceptable for Tuesday – which would have saved some money – buther request was denied.

Since it’s a federal election, the electronic voting machineswere set in place throughout Friday.

Though the cost per vote will be high, it may be much worse than$10 per vote by Wednesday morning. If no candidate gets a majority,a runoff election will be necessary for June 22, which would forcethe county to break out its checkbook again.

Hopefully, turnout for the Nov. 2 election will make up for whatis expected to be a pathetic Tuesday.

In that election, Harper will face the Democratic nominee, aswell as America First Party candidate Doyle Trent of Florence andReform Party representative Tracella Lou O’Hara Hill ofHattiesburg.

The November election will also see Lincoln County’s only localrace, a contest for the District Four seat on the Lincoln CountySchool Board, currently held by Michael Posey. Qualifying for thatcontest begins Aug. 4 and ends Sept. 3.

Judges Mike Taylor and David Strong will appear on that ballotunopposed for the Mississippi 14th Circuit District, and Judge EdPatten will be similarly lonely while running for the Mississippi15th Chancery District. Jackson’s judge Joseph Lee will rununopposed for the Mississippi Court of Appeals District Four, whichcovers Lincoln County.

There may be hope in November. But for enthusiastic voters andlocal taxpayers, it’s going to be a long June.

“It just really bothers me because of the economic shape ourstate and county is in, and we’re going to have to spend money onthis election,” Watkins said.