Mississippi turnout heavy in early voting

Published 2:12 pm Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Voters lined up by the hundreds outside polling places well before the start of voting Tuesday in what was shaping up to be a one of the largest general election turnouts ever in Mississippi.

Drawing voters to the polls early were the hotly contested presidential race and key congressional races.

“We’ve got long lines. It’s that way everywhere down here,” said Harrison County Circuit Clerk Gayle Parker on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

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“There must have been 100 people lined up outside” one precinct well before polls opened, she said.

At the Flowood Library just northeast of Jackson, lines of voters, in some places two or three people deep, backed up for 100 yards. Some people said they had already waited as long as an hour to get inside.

Jeannie Crawley waited 45 minutes.

“I felt like it was going to be one of the biggest elections ever and I feel like (the lines) will be like this all day,” Crawley said.

In traditionally Republican Rankin County, motorists maneuvering to enter the parking area of a National Guard armory in Brandon temporarily blocked morning traffic. Dozens of voters stood on a sidewalk and spilled over into parking areas.

In Pearl, voters gathered outside a polling area just off busy U.S. Highway 80.

Weather also favored strong voter participation, with clear skies and mild temperatures.

Mississippi has voted Republican in presidential races since 1980 and nominee John McCain was expected to win the state’s six electoral votes. However, Democratic nominee Barack Obama could have a strong showing if there’s significant participation by young people and minorities.

Two U.S. Senate seats, all four U.S. House seats and several judicial posts were also on the ballot in Mississippi.

In rapidly growing DeSoto County just south of Memphis, a deputy clerk described the early voting as “big and heavy.”

Parker said there had been no problems early in her coastal county.

“I did stop by a precinct early this morning after the manager called me and said she couldn’t find the equipment” Parker said. “It was in a gym and they had put it (the voting equipment) behind the bleachers and we found it. It was scary for a minute.”

Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann was not predicting turnout this year, but has said he expects heavy participation and long lines because of the historic election in which either the first black president or the first female vice president will be chosen.

“I’ll be disappointed if it’s not the largest (turnout) we’ve ever had in this state,” Hosemann said Monday.

Nearly 1.2 million Mississippians voted in the 2004 presidential race, a state record. New figures released by Hosemann’s office Monday show nearly 1.9 million voters are registered now — a 10.3 percent increase since January.

Republican Thad Cochran, in the Senate for 30 years, is being challenged by Democrat Erik Fleming, a former state lawmaker who lost to Trent Lott in a 2006 U.S. Senate race.

Lott retired last December and Republican Roger Wicker was appointed to serve temporarily. Wicker and former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove compete Tuesday to serve the final four years of Lott’s six-year term.