Local leaders: Votes still count

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 18, 2000

Dr. Robert Barnes cast his vote in the presidential primary Tuesday, as he does in every election. &uot;I always vote, because that way I can complain,&uot; he said just after voting around 6 p.m. at the Adams County Courthouse.

By then, an hour before the polls closed, he was one of only about 150 people who voted at the precinct.

Throughout the county, 12.5 percent of registered voters — 2,8000 of 22,307 — turned out for a primary that had virtually become a one-man race in both parties.

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Vice President Al Gore was the last serious Democratic contender, while Republican Texas Gov. George Bush had little competition from Alan Keyes.

With closest challengers Bill Bradley and John McCain out of the race, Mississippi’s primary was part of a &uot;Super Tuesday II&uot; that isn’t so super anymore.

Why the low turnout?

Thelma Pirkle had a slow day Tuesday.

&uot;A lot of (the reason for the low turnout) is that people don’t even know there’s an election,&uot; said Pirkle, a pollworker at the Adams County Courthouse.

Fire Station No. 2 precinct manager Carrie Young was just hoping for triple digits before the night was over.

&uot;I want to see another zero before I go,&uot; she said.

Some people may have stayed away from the polls because there were no local races on the ballot, said Joyce Arceneaux, a Natchez alderwoman and an at-large member of the Democratic National Committee.

&uot;They always say everything is local,&uot; she said.

Also on Tuesday’s ballot were challengers to Senate Majority Leader Trent&160;Lott, R-Miss., and freshman Rep. Ronnie Shows, D-Miss.

&uot;I was really disappointed in the turnout,&uot; said Stephanie Punches, chairman of Adams County’s Republican Party. &uot;If McCain had still been a viable candidate I&160;think we would have seen a higher turnout.&uot;

The 4th District Congressional primary race between Republicans Geoffrey Yoste and Dunn Lampton may not have attracted much attention because both candidates were very similar, Punches said. Lampton won the chance to face Shows in November.

Five challengers sought a chance to face Lott, with one-time lieutenant governor candidate Troy Brown winning the race.

&uot;There was not a lot of television advertising on the Democratic Senate race,&uot; Arceneaux said.

And presidential candidates made only brief stops in the state – Gore several weeks before the primary at a Jackson medical mall, Bush the day before the primary at a Jackson school.

&uot;They were visible in states that are going to swing the nomination,&uot; Arceneaux said. &uot;There may be a lot of activity now in states where there’s a contender for vice president. Everybody’s scrambling to see what’s the best political combination, where can one party get help for the head of the ticket.&uot;

With nominations all but guaranteed, the game plan changes now, Punches said. &uot;It’ll be a lot different when it’s Bush vs. Gore,&uot; she said.

Changing the primaries?

Since 1988, Southern states have voted in a block of primaries to give them a strong voice in deciding the nominees for each party.

This year, Super Tuesday came a week earlier, with 13 Republican primaries and 11 Democratic contests — including those in influential states such as California and New York.

Following losing battles in most of those states, Bradley dropped out and McCain &uot;suspended&uot; his campaign.

Mississippi has 33 convention delegates at stake for Republican presidential candidates and 44 for Democrats.

In the primary system, the popular vote in each states translates to a certain number of delegates to each party’s national convention, so the larger the state’s population, the more delegates the state has.

Delegates then vote for the candidates at the party conventions. But with several large states holding early primaries this year, Bush and Gore had the political momentum before Mississippi held its primary.

&uot;In 1988 we were still in the game at this point,&uot; Punches said. Punches serves on the Republican National Committee’s rules committee, which is considering a recommendation for another primary plan. The committee is also working with its counterpart on the Democratic National Committee, she said.

One would be to set up one day for a presidential primary across the nation — something that would probably be to the advantage of the candidate with the most money, she said. A second plan would set up regional primaries, so that candidates could concentrate on one area of the country at a time.

And a third plan, called the Delaware plan, would divide states by size. Smaller states, which have smaller numbers of delegates, would hold their primaries first.

&uot;Whether the two parties can get together on this remains to be seen,&uot; Punches said.

&uot;I think change is badly needed,&uot; Republican National Committee Chairman Jim Nicholson told The Associated Press. &uot;If we don’t change it, we’re headed inexorably to a national primary day, and I think that would be bad.&uot;

Without change, he said smaller and later states will have neither influence nor an incentive to turn out voters.

&uot;The goal has got to be voter participation,&uot; Democratic National Committee Chairman Joe Andrew told The Associated Press. &uot;Not just a rigid system that tries to spread things out.&uot;

Having a voice

Courthouse pollworker Anne Allmand summed up what she thought were the feelings of many oters who stayed home Tuesday. &uot;Most people figure their vote basically doesn’t make a difference,&uot; she said.

But even though Mississippi voters may not have a decisive vote on who each party’s nominee is, they can have a voice in which issues each party chooses to emphasize.

&uot;Everybody now is getting ready for platforms,&uot; Arceneaux said. &uot;Even though we have a decision as to who’s going to win the nomination, there are some platform issues that have to be decided. People are trying to make sure they can get their voice heard. I tell everybody to get out and vote so we have a voice in the platform. When we get to the convention we want the candidate to know we support them.&uot;

That way, Mississippi delegates have a stronger voice in forming the platform — and can speak up for state issues.

Arceneaux said fighting voter apathy is important not just in presidential primaries but in local and general elections as well. &uot;I&160;would encourage anybody to participate,&uot; she said. &uot;Anytime you have just 30 percent or 40 percent of the people voting, the minority population is speaking. That’s dangerous. Apathy is not good for the country.&uot;