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Miss. voter turnout projected higher than 4 years ago

More Mississippi voters are likely to cast ballots Tuesday than in the statewide primaries four years ago, the state’s top elections official predicts.

Secretary of State Eric Clark, a Democrat who is not seeking re-election, said he believes turnout will be driven by competitive races for the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor and the Democratic nomination for insurance commissioner, as well as local contests for sheriff and other offices.

Polls will be open 7 a.m.-7 p.m.

“I think it’s the responsibility of every American citizen and every Mississippi citizen to go vote on election day,” Clark said Monday. “I think you need to prepare yourself ahead of time. You need to study up on who’s running and what offices are open, and then you need to be ready and you need to go vote on election day.

“It is my opinion, probably an old-fashioned one, that if you’re too lazy to go vote on election day, you don’t deserve to live in a free country,” he said.

People are choosing Democratic and Republican nominees for all eight statewide offices; all 174 legislative seats; regional offices of transportation commissioner, public service commissioner and district attorney; and county offices such as sheriff, supervisor, circuit clerk, chancery clerk and coroner.

If runoffs are needed, they’ll be Aug. 28.

The general election is Nov. 6, and ballots then will have Democratic and Republican nominees, plus third-party or independent candidates.

Clark said he expects about 710,000 people to vote Tuesday. That’s higher than the 707,391 who cast ballots in the governor’s primary in 2003.

The state has about 1.75 million registered voters, Clark said. But officials have acknowledged for years that voter rolls in some counties likely are bloated with names of people who have died or moved away, making it difficult to calculate turnout as a percentage of qualified voters.

The governor’s race is generally a magnet for voters, but there’s been little drama so far because Republican incumbent Haley Barbour faces only one primary opponent who has been practically invisible as a campaigner. On the Democratic side, attorney John Arthur Eaves Jr. is the only one of the four gubernatorial candidates to spend any significant money.

The lieutenant governor’s race is wide open because Republican incumbent Amy Tuck was limited to two terms and couldn’t run again. State Sen. Charlie Ross and state Auditor Phil Bryant are battling for the Republican nomination; the winner will face Democratic state Rep. Jamie Franks in November.

Insurance Commissioner George Dale is facing strong criticism from his Democratic primary opponent, former state fiscal officer Gary Anderson.

Clark based his voter-turnout prediction on historical trends and on which races are hotly contested this year. He said he also talks to circuit clerks about the rate of absentee voting.

“The fourth point is completely subjective,” Clark said. “It’s just a feel. It’s street talk that you hear. It’s how much excitement there is about whether it’s the lieutenant governor’s race or the insurance commissioner’s race or the sheriff of Hinds County or whatever.”

The U.S. Justice Department told Clark’s office that it will monitor elections in 11 Mississippi counties to ensure fairness to minorities. The counties are Bolivar, Humphreys, Holmes, Jones, Wilkinson, Neshoba, Leake, Winston, Newton, Kemper and Noxubee.