By NATHAN GREGORY
After overseeing his first presidential election as Oktibbeha County’s Circuit Clerk, Glenn Hamilton said he is pleased with the work of poll workers as well as overall voter turnout and has plans to improve the efficiency of the voting process going forward.
A total of 18,664 ballots were cast, including 866 affidavits and 1,694 absentee ballots. That accounts for 70.3 percent of the county’s total eligible voting population of 26,557. Incumbent President Barack Obama unofficially carried the county for the second consecutive major election by a vote of 8,030 to Republican challenger Mitt Romney’s 7,728. That tally does not include affidavit and absentee ballots.
He said his biggest concern of the day was the number of addresses that went to incorrect precincts, which caused confusion for a number of people lining up to cast their ballots.
“I certainly wouldn’t point any fingers or anything like that. No one who has been through this process of (implementing) a totally new 911 address system and putting it together for an election and having changes even without that (would expect the process to flow smoothly),” Hamilton said. “Certainly, the goal would be not to have any hitches, but you’ve got to be realistic and realize that the odds of the mere numbers you’re dealing with, you’re going to have some that didn’t turn out right. Hopefully the people understood, and we will have all of that corrected in short order.”
It wasn’t until approximately 9:35 p.m. that the first vote count — six out of the county’s 21 precincts — was announced. National news outlets had already projected Romney would win the state of Mississippi’s electoral votes by that time.
Hamilton said late voting and a higher number of affidavit ballots than usual probably were factors in delaying the counting process.
“I would have wished that it could have been sooner … but I would imagine after what I observed these poll workers going through (Tuesday), they just had to take a little short breather before they got into … clearing out the machines and subtotaling,” Hamilton said. “I know had I worked from 7 (a.m.) to 7 (p.m.) and the last person got out, I would have had to leave and take just a short breather before I would be ready. We understand that and hopefully everybody else does too.”
Director of Mississippi State University’s Stennis Institute of Government Marty Wiseman, who previously predicted the GOP would win Oktibbeha County in the presidential race, said the fact Romney wasn’t Mississippian’s first choice in the Republican Primary and his religion could have affected local turnout. Also, he said, turnout is generally affected in Mississippi because many believe there is little chance to change the state’s electoral outcome.
“There was still a reluctance for Republicans to vote for Romney on the most part because of fundamental religious differences that exist between him and the average Mississippian voter. For some reason, they didn’t vote for him as strongly as they did for McCain in 2008,” Wiseman said alluding to the six-vote different between Obama and McCain in Oktibbeha county in the last presidential election cycle. “He was their third choice (behind Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich), and very few Mississippians can identify at all with a candidate like Romney.”
Wiseman also said African American voters helped push Obama to victory in Oktibbeha County because many saw it as their last chance to vote for the president.
“I still believe Mississippi, out of all the Southern states, has the best chance of electing a Democrat statewide because of our large African American population,” he said.
Regarding the outcome, Oktibbeha County Democratic Party Chairman Chris Taylor said he was pleased to see Obama carry the county. After Wiseman predicted the GOP to win, Taylor said, OCDP members and volunteers were energized and continued to make calls to voters across the county encouraging them to support Obama.
The party also experienced several disappointments on a local level, Taylor said, including the failure to carry Oktibbeha-based U.S. Senate candidate Albert Gore Jr.
“Gore should have at least won his home county if not the rest of the state,” he said. “(Also, First Congressional District Democratic candidate) Brad Morris should have carried the (five) Oktibbeha County precincts we had for him.”
County Republican Party Vice Chairman Ricky Bishop said the organization is excited in its successful efforts to help re-elect U.S. Senate incumbent Roger Wicker, First Congressional District incumbent Alan Nunnelee and Third Congressional District incumbent Gregg Harper as well as helping Miss. Supreme Court District 3 candidate Dennis Coleman prevail over Richard “Flip” Phillips. He said he was also impressed with the overall voter turnout.
“I think it’s encouraging,” he said. “We’re glad to see people getting involved in the process of choosing their leaders.”
Despite the county going majority Democrat for the second straight time, the OCRP was able to make approximately 3,000 calls to the swing state of Florida on behalf of Romney, Bishop said.
“We’re happy that the state as a whole worked hard and was able to deliver its electoral votes to Gov. Romney,” he said. “I believe that Congress, the president and the Senate should come together. We shouldn’t compromise Republican principles, but … for anything to get done, there’s going to have to be compromise on both sides. Moving forward, I hope those sides acknowledge that.”
Both local party representatives said they are looking forward to next year’s city election.
“(OCDP) is going to continue to work together and be strong. In the last local election we lost two key positions — the circuit clerk and tax assessor (Allen Morgan) — which were both Democrats before,” Taylor said. “We want to make sure in the upcoming election for the city in April of next year, we need to get Democrats elected on the board of aldermen and also to re-elect the current mayor (Parker Wiseman) in office.”
“We’re going to organize and get behind our candidates. At the Patriots Dinner we had a record sellout in tickets and had one of the best turnouts of Republicans in any county,” Bishop said. “We’re looking forward to the city elections.”