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Early voter turnout heavy; few problems cited

By Jerry Mitchell   Mississippi Clarion-Ledger  02 November 2004

Rain over much of Mississippi did little to dampen voter turnout this morning, with record turnout reported across the state.

Voters in Rankin County near the Ross Barnett Reservoir stood under umbrellas outside a fire station and overflowed a gym at St. Mark's United Methodist Church.

Voters began lining up outside the polls as early as 6:30 a.m., and some voters said they had to wait as much as an hour and a half in order to cast their ballots.

They lined up to vote in the presidential election in a hotly contested race between President Bush and Democratic challenger John Kerry.

Besides the presidential race, voters cast their ballots for such hot-button issues as liquor sales, convention centers in three cities and an amendment to the state constitution to ban gay marriage.

"Everything we've heard is voter turnout is very heavy," said David Blount, a spokesman for Secretary of State Eric Clark who stood in line himself this morning. "All the anecdotal evidence is extremely heavy turnout."

Blount said so far it looks as if Clark's prediction that a record 1,080,000 Mississippians will show up today at the polls will hold true. That number represents 52 percent of voting-age Mississippians, up from the record of 48 percent four years ago.

There have been reports of college students being unable to vote at some Mississippi universities, including the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg.

Kimberli Dixon, a 26-year-old graduate student who wants to be a principal one day, stood outside the Forrest County Courthouse this morning, holding a sign that said, "One Vote Counts."

She said she registered to vote at a local church, but learned her form had been rejected by the clerk's office because the name of her dorm wasn't listed.

The clerk's office never informed her of the problem, she said. She has since learned that dozens of students are having the same problem.

She voted this morning by affidavit ballot. "You know, it probably won't get counted," she said. "It hurts me deep inside."

Back in 2000, she voted in her hometown in Broward County, Fla., and her ballot became one of the many examined by poll workers after the presidential election. "So now I come up here, and they have even more problems," she said.

There were other early complaints of voting problems, including scattered reports of voting machine problems in Hinds County. In one case, Hinds County election officials were sent to a heavily black precinct to check reports that voting machines were separated for Democrats and Republicans, with more machines on the GOP side. The situation was corrected by mid-morning.

Callers also reported early problems at the National Guard Armory in Brandon.

"In Hinds County, people are standing in line in the rain," said Circuit Clerk Barbara Dunn. "I understand that there were lines of voters and cars lined up to park at precincts all over the county."

Dunn, whose county includes Jackson, said predictions of a record turnout appeared to be proving correct, "unless it really starts storming and flooding."

About 2 percent of voters were expected to have to show a driver's license or other identification at the polls. They were first-time voters who registered by mail since Jan. 1, 2003.

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