With the primary election for county and state office-holders less than one month away, the campaign season in Mississippi is heating up. So, too, are the telephone lines to circuit clerk offices around the state. With redistricting affecting nearly every race, there's more confusion than usual. Lee County circuit clerk Joyce Loftin escaped from the phone lines long enough to talk with Daily Journal associate editor Danny McKenzie about the upcoming elections and the confusion surrounding them.
Q. What is your office spending most of its time on these days?
A. We just finished a major redistricting. In Lee County, we went from three constable districts and three justice court districts to four constable and four justice court districts. Basically, that means that every voter in the county will have a new justice court judge and new constable, and, therefore, every voter in the county had to be notified. We sent out about 49,000 to 50,000 voter registration cards, and we've gotten most of them back.
There've been a lot of questions and a lot of phone calls. Some people have just moved and we just needed to correct their address. You know when you move you think about your phone bill, utility bills, bank statements and things like that, but not many people think about their voter registration. So we get a lot of those back in.
And a lot of people just call because they aren't quite sure what to do, and the cards say for them to call. Believe you me, they're calling. But if we can get 100 voters cleared up and get our rolls in better shape, that's good.
Q. What is your office's biggest problem during an election?
A. I guess the biggest thing would be that this is a county and state election, and that there are different polling places than for city elections. There are so many times that voters will go to their city precinct and call us to tell us there's nobody there, and we look them up on the computer and tell them where they're supposed to vote.
And there are still some people who've changed their address but go back to their old polling place. We've instructed all our poll workers not to turn anyone away; voters can always vote affidavit. But then the poll worker has to call the office and look up what kind of ballot to give them. If someone, say, went to Shannon to vote when they were supposed to be in Saltillo, they could vote affidavit, but they'd be voting for someone who didn't represent them because they aren't voting in the district where they live.
It's a very complicated process; there are 83 different types of ballots in Lee County this year. By the time you have new lines for supervisors, senators, representatives, constables, judges, separate school districts, and county school districts, and you have a Democrat ballot and Republican ballot, there's no way but for it to be complicated.
Q. Is it too late for absentee voting?
A. No. We've been voting absentee since June 23 and we'll accept absentee ballots that reach us by Monday, Aug. 5. We've had requests for ballots to be mailed out the Saturday before the election, but they've got to be back in our post office box by 5 p.m. Monday, or they don't get counted.
We've had a fairly steady amount of requests for mail-outs. We'll also be open the two Saturdays (July 25 and Aug. 1) before the election, from 8 in the morning until noon.
Q. Can voters switch party ballots?
A. If you vote Democrat or Republican on Aug. 5 then you have to vote in the same party for the Aug. 26 runoff. You can't switch parties in the primaries. But on Nov. 5 you can vote for whoever you want in the general election.
We try to let voters know that when they go to the polls on Aug. 5 they must know which ballot they want to vote on. That is a big factor.
Q. What are your projections for voter turnout this year?
A. Four years ago, we had a few more than 37 percent of the voters turn out for the election. This year I'd love to say we'll have more, because this county spends an awful lot of money on elections. I'd love for it to be a wonderful turnout.
We've got some races this year that are highly contested, and that may get a few more voters out. And anytime you have a race where there are lots of people running our coroner races are loaded with candidates this time you seem to get more voters. All that could be a factor.
Judging from the absentee requests and ballots, it seems as though there's already a good bit of interest. I just hope it holds up.