Miss. voter turnout predicted to be lower than in 2003

Published 5:10 pm Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Secretary of State Eric Clark predicts voter turnout Tuesday will be higher than in most statewide years in Mississippi, but lower than it was during the hotly contested 2003 governor’s race.

Polls are open 7 a.m.-7 p.m.

“It’s just terrifically important that you go vote,” Clark said Monday. “We elect the people who make our state laws and our county laws and who pave our roads and decide how much taxes we’re going to pay. And you need to be part of picking good people.”

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Ballots will have all eight statewide positions, from governor to insurance commissioner. For the first time in recent memory, four of the statewide positions will have no incumbent on the general election ballot — lieutenant governor, secretary of state, auditor and insurance commissioner.

Ballots also will have regional races for transportation and public service commissioners and district attorneys. All 122 state House seats and 52 state Senate seats are being filled, as are a host of positions in all 82 counties, from supervisor to coroner.

Republican Gov. Haley Barbour spent part of Monday shaking hands in downtown Jackson and part of it on the telephone doing radio interviews and calling voters.

The Democratic nominee for governor, attorney John Arthur Eaves Jr., traveled to Biloxi, Hattiesburg, Meridian, Tupelo and Greenville to try to drum up support for his campaign.

Barbour, a high-profile Washington lobbyist and former Republican National Committee chairman, unseated Democratic Gov. Ronnie Musgrove in 2003. Records show 894,487 votes were cast in that race — the highest number in a governor’s election in Mississippi.

“And that big turnout is what carried me in,” Barbour said at an election rally last week. “We’ve got to have a big turnout.”

In seeking a second term now, Barbour is telling voters that he whipped the state budget into shape, put limits on lawsuits, promoted job creation and helped pull in billions of federal dollars for Hurricane Katrina recovery.

Eaves, who has never held elected office, says he wants to set aside time in public schools each day for voluntary, student-led prayer. He also said Mississippi remains on the bottom of many national rankings for education, health and other quality-of-life issues.

“This governor has painted a rosy picture, but he’s only telling half truths,” Eaves said in a recent interview. “We need a governor who serves the people not the powerful interests that have been taking advantage of Mississippi.”

Mississippi has a voting age population of nearly 2.1 million, but officials acknowledge that determining an exact number of registered voters is difficult because some counties have outdated rolls.

Clark said turnout typically is highest during presidential election years. Nearly 1.2 million Mississippians voted in the 2004 presidential election. Clark predicted about 825,000 people will vote Tuesday.

He said his prediction is part science, part art: His office evaluates past election trends and current rates of absentee voting, plus subjective measures like “street talk” and the interest in statewide races.

Clark said the Department of Justice will send election observers to four counties: Wilkinson and Jeff Davis in south Mississippi and Humphreys and Leflore in the Delta. He said he didn’t know why those counties were chosen. The Justice Department monitors Mississippi elections to ensure fairness to minority voters.