JACKSON, Miss. (AP, abc24.com) - Officials reported brisk turnout among voters Tuesday as Mississippians went to the polls to choose a new governor and decide whether to add three amendments to the state
constitution, including one that could provoke a national fight about abortion.
Polls opened at 7 a.m. and will close at 7 p.m.
The Mississippi secretary of state's office said it had been notified of "minimal problems at polling locations" across the state and high voter turnout.
"We are seeing minor problems and major turnout," Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann said in a news release.
One of the problems could lead to a challenge of results in a race for a House seat in north Mississippi. In Tunica County, the election for the District 25 House seat was left off the ballot in one precinct, officials said. Officials switched to paper ballots.
The race is between incumbent Democrat John Mayo and Republican Gene Alday, the mayor of Walls.
Mayo, running for his fourth term, said he was trying to determine how many people might have voted before the switch to paper ballots. He said the race is likely to be contested if it's closer than about 900 votes, which is roughly the number of registered voters in that precinct.
Mayo said the district leans Democrat and he feels the precinct would support him.
"If the race was that close, I would certainly contest it," he said.
Alday said he would wait to see the results of other precincts before making a decision on what to do.
"It's just a bad mistake," Alday said. "It's going to make a difference. This is a close race, we know that. You've got 900 voters who can't express their opinion, that's a lot. When you have 900 voters not being represented, that's not right. People should have the right to vote, that's really the only thing we have."
In Lauderdale County, two local residents filed a complaint in circuit court, alleging election officials declined to bring in more voting machines in two precincts with long lines of people. They asked a judge to order more voting machines delivered to the precincts. No ruling has been issued on the complaint.
Among other the problems cited by Hosemann's office were reports that poll workers at a precinct in Jackson were asking voters for party identification and directing voters to different machines. Hosemann said the election commission was taking care of the problem.
Besides a few problems around the state, officials said things were running smoothly and turnout was steady to heavy.
On the Mississippi Gulf Coast, Jackson County election commissioner Danny Glaskox said voter turnout was heavy on Tuesday morning.
"It's a little bit heavier than I expected. If it stays like this all day, we're going to have a real good turnout."
In heavily populated Desoto County, just south of Memphis, Tenn., Circuit Clerk Dale Thompson said "it looks like it's a pretty good turnout."
"It's because of these initiatives, that's what I think is getting the voters out, and also the governor's race," Thompson said. "We also have a contested sheriff's race."
In central Mississippi's Hinds County, home to the state capital, election commissioner Marilyn Avery said "it's been pretty steady, I would say."
"Just watching voters come in, I'd say it's heavier than some elections. It's not as heavy as the presidential election, but it's more than others have been. Most everybody I talked to had a line at (their precinct) at 7 o'clock and that's a good sign," Avery said.
The governor's race between Republican Phil Bryant and Democrat Johnny DuPree has been polite. They've mostly avoided criticizing each other while competing to succeed two-term Republican Gov. Haley Barbour.
The attorney general's office has officials watching elections in 18 of the state's 82 counties and the secretary of state's office has workers in 44 counties, Hosemann said. The Justice Department - which monitors some elections to ensure fairness to minorities - has observers in Humphreys, Leflore, Panola and
The three ballot initiatives are proposed amendments to the state constitution.
- Initiative 26 would declare life begins at fertilization. If it's approved, supporters say it could prompt a court challenge seeking to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that established a legal right to abortion.
- Initiative 27 would require voters to show government-issued identification at the polls.
- Initiative 31 would restrict the government's use of eminent domain to take private land for economic development.
Bryant has outspent DuPree 7-to-1 in the governor's race. Bryant, 56, of Brandon, is finishing one term as lieutenant governor, and DuPree, 57, who's in his third term as mayor of Hattiesburg.
"The election for governor is about who has the right experience, conservative values and proven record of leadership. Phil Bryant is ready to lead on day one," the Bryant campaign said in an email Monday.
In his own email to supporters, DuPree wrote: "When I ran track, my coach would always say, `Run through the tape, not to the tape. If you run through the tape, you won't slow down before you get to the finish line.' We can see the finish line, and we're not slowing down one bit."
The governor's race already made history. DuPree was the first black candidate to win a major-party nomination for the Mississippi governorship. Bryant is seeking to become the first Republican to succeed another Republican in that office.
Republicans are trying to overtake Democrats for control of the 122-member House, but it's unclear whether they'll succeed. The current partisan balance is 67 Democrats, 54 Republicans and one independent.
In the Senate, the partisan balance is 27 Republicans and 24 Democrats, with one vacant seat that had been held by a Democrat.
Republican Tate Reeves, who's finishing his second term as state treasurer, is expected to be elected lieutenant governor Tuesday. His only opponent is the Reform Party's Tracella Lou O'Hara Hill of Petal.
Candidates in the open race for state treasurer are Republican Lynn Fitch of Madison, who's on leave as director of the state Personnel Board; Democrat Connie Moran, the second-term mayor of Ocean Springs; and the Reform Party's Shawn O'Hara of Hattiesburg, who has run unsuccessfully for several offices the past two decades.
Candidates in the open race for agriculture commissioner are Republican state Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith of Brookhaven; Democrat Joel Gill, the mayor of Pickens; and the Reform Party's Cathy L. Toole of Biloxi.
The Reform Party candidates reported spending $200 each on their campaigns. The party has no history of winning elections in Mississippi.
Democrat Jim Hood of Brandon, a former district attorney from north Mississippi, is seeking a third term as attorney general. He is challenged by Republican Steve Simpson of Gulfport, a former circuit judge who served as state commissioner of public safety from mid-2008 until early this year.
Associated Press writer Holbrook Mohr in Jackson contributed to this story.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)