Voters trek to polls on Tuesday

Published 1:08 am Sunday, October 31, 2010

Based on the number of absentee ballots cast, Pearl River County Circuit Court Clerk Vickie Hariel — who was in Picayune on Friday helping with the absentee voting process at Chimney Square circuit court offices — said she is expecting a heavy voter turnout in Tuesday’s election. Polls open at 7 a.m. and close at 7 p.m. Absentee balloting ended on Saturday at noon.

There are 33,803 registered voters in Pearl River County.

Pearl River County is noted for its  low turnouts, but pundits are expecting a higher than usual turnout this time in what has been described by national media commentators as one of the most momentous midterm elections in history.

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Highlighting the Tuesday vote locally is a tight race for the fourth district congressional post between GOP challenger State Rep. Steven Palazzo of Biloxi and Democrat incumbent U.S. Rep. Gene Taylor of Bay St. Louis. Polls show the race is a dead heat.

Palazzo and Taylor met in the only debate of the campaign on Pascagoula radio and TV stations on Friday night, but the debate competed with “Friday night lights” and those who don’t live in the Pascagoula area had to go on-line to hear and see it. No computer; no debate.

 In the debate, the two continued to trade barbs as they have done in their closing attack ads. Palazzo continued to try and tie House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taylor, who voted for her twice, said Palazzo, and Taylor said Palazzo’s attack ads were lies and he (Palazzo) tried to cut state retirees’ income. Palazzo shot back that he pulled that bill in the state legislature and charged Taylor with being a spend-and-tax Pelosi partner. Palazzo is a state representative, representing Biloxi.

Meanwhile, Libertarian candidate Tim Hampton, who blasted the Pascagoula media for leaving him out of the debate, held his own “counter debate” on “ustream” at Bianchi’s Pizzeria in Hattiesburg immediately after the Palazzo-Taylor debate aired.

 Hampton maintained that the Libertarian Party offers a viable alternative to the two main-stream, establishment parties, which he says offer nothing new. Reform candidate Anna Jewel Revies has not campaigned, although she will appear on Tuesday’s congressional ballot. The Reform Party was begun by Ross Perot.

“We have had a steady flow of voters casting absentee ballots, so based on that, I feel there is going to be a high turnout of voters on Tuesday,” Hariel told the Item on Friday.

There are 33 voting precincts in Pearl River County manned by at least three poll workers each,

The Tuesday, Nov. 2, balloting is described as the midterm elections for the congressional races, but Pearl River County voters also face electing chancery and circuit court judges and a county court judge in nine judgeship races, and in two special elections, a Pearl River County District Two school board member to fill the unexpired term of Byron Stockstill, who resigned, and a District Two supervisor to fill the unexpired term of the late Charles E. Culpepper, a position currently held by his widow, interim District Two Supervisor Joyce Culpepper, who is on the ballot and running to fill the remainder of her husband’s term.

In addition, under the judges’ contests, county voters will vote for filling the post of the County Court Judge, a new position. D. Richelle Lumpkin, a Picayune attorney and attorney for the Poplarville school board, is unopposed in that position, but election officials said voters should still mark her ballot, since she needs at least one vote to make her election official.

The institution of a county court system, which will meet daily, is expected to help unclog other court systems and reduce prisoners by expediting trials. The county court system is mandated by state law after a county surpasses 50,000 in population, which Pearl River County did during this decade. County population jumped from 48,000 in 2000 to an estimated 57,000 currently.

The county court trials and hearings will begin the first of January in Picayune’s Chimney Square courtrooms.

One race, in the Chancery Court District 10, Place One, could cause some confusion and slow down the vote count on Tuesday night because incumbent Judge James H.C. Thomas, Jr., died on Oct. 1 right after the ballots were printed, Hariel said. His name will still appear on the ballot as unopposed, but the race will be a write-in contest.

By Saturday, at least 10 people had announced their candidacy in the write-in contest for that post.

To write in a candidate, voters will have to type it in, which could cause added difficulty, but Hariel said that if anyone has any problems with voting in that contest, or any other contest, they should ask for poll worker assistance. “That is why they are there,” she said.

According to the Secretary of State’s office, a voter will choose “Write-In” on the electronic machine, and a touch pad will prompt the voter to type the name of a candidate.

The 10 are: Poplarville native Nance Fitzpatrick Stokes, Carol Ann Bustin of Lamar County, Leigh Berry of Columbia, Ronald Doleac, Chad Shook, Michael C. Barefield, Deborah Gambell, Alex Ignatiev, Maura McLaughlin, all of Hattiesburg, and Sheila Havard Smallwood of Petal. All are attorneys, as required by state law to run for the post.

If Thomas gets the most votes, even though he’s deceased, the governor will appoint an interim judge until a special election can be held in 2011. If no candidate receives a majority of votes cast, 50 percent plus one, a runoff will be held on Nov. 23 between the two top candidates.

Besides the Thomas contest, there are eight other judgeships on the Nov. 2 ballot. They are: unopposed for Supreme Court Justice District 2 (Southern), Position One, Jess H. Dickinson; unopposed for Court of Appeals, District 5, Position One, William ‘Bill’ Myers; contested for Chancery Court Judge, District 10, Place Two, Lamar attorney Dawn H. Beam, Marion County prosecuting attorney Scott Phillips and Pearl River County prosecuting Aaron L. Russell, Jr.; unopposed Chancery Court Judge District 10, Place Three, Johnny Lee Williams; unopposed Chancery Court Judge District 10, Place Four, Gene Fair; and contested Circuit Court Judge, District 15, Place One, Anthony A. ‘Tony’ Mozingo and incumbent R.I. ‘Rip’ Prichard III of Picayune, who has served since 1972; contested Circuit Court Judge, District 15, Place Two, incumbent Prentiss G. Harrell and Joseph L. Turney; and the unopposed race for County Court, Lumpkin.

In the special election for supervisor, District Two, there are eight candidates, incumbent interim supervisor Joyce Culpepper, who was appointed on Dec. 2 after the Nov. 23 death of her husband, Charles Culpepper, and Virgil C. “Kent” Dunn, Joe Knezevick, Rayford Lee, Daryl Smith, Rafe Smith, Keith Stines and Sidney A. Woodson.

Only voters in supervisor District Two will vote in this contest. There have been three debates, or more like Q&A sessions, in this race. There are about 6,000 registered voters in District Two.

If no one garners a majority of votes caste on Tuesday, the top two will face a runoff on Nov. 23. A majority is 50 percent of votes cast plus one.

In the Pearl River County school board’s District Two race, incumbent school board member Bonnie Sanders (Johnson) faces opposition from three challengers: Michael E. Holmes, Ryan H. Richard and R. Jeremy Weir. The race has been relatively quiet.

 Sanders was appointed by the board on Oct 5, 2009, as interim after Byron Stockstill resigned. She has pointed to her push for academic excellence and reworking the budget to save taxpayers money, while Holmes said he is running because he feels the board is not adequately representing what the people want. Weir is the former head Blue Devil football coach and says he is 100 percent dedicated to building a strong system for the students. He currently coaches at Stone but he still lives in district two.

There will be no runoff in this contest. Whoever gets the most votes will fill the remainder of Stockstill’s term.

Hariel said if anyone has any problem casting a vote, like if you think you are registered and your name is not on voting books, you can vote by affidavit ballot, and your ballot will be accepted and later researched for its validity and either counted or thrown out based on the facts.