As race heads into final countdown, local leaders try to get out the vote

Published 12:00 am Saturday, November 4, 2000

From pulpits to phone banks, local leaders were doing their part this weekend to get out the vote as the campaign ticked down its final moments. With the election of the president at stake — along with a handful of local races — party faithful were out in full force to encourage voters to choose their candidates in a close race that seems anyone’s call.

Johnny Junkin, a local attorney active in the Adams County Republican Committee, said the local party is taking advantage of the last few days before the election.

&uot;It could be that just that simple little reminder pushes them to the polls,&uot; he said.

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The last push in the final hours culminates weeks of local campaigning, which has included door-to-door visits, phone calls and voter registration drives.

The last few weekends, young Republican groups and volunteers have gone door-to-door handing out literature about the Republican candidates.

Volunteers were also on hand at this weekend’s Chili Cook-off in Natchez and other local events reinforcing the party’s message and encouraging people to vote Tuesday.

Junkin said volunteers have also been canvassing the community through a phone bank, calling registered voters and reminding them that Tuesday is close at hand and suggesting they choose Republican candidates at the national and local level.

&uot;That’s the concept: That they’ve already made up their minds,&uot; Junkin said. &uot;We’re just reminding them to go vote.&uot;

Will it make a difference?

Joseph Parker, professor of political science at the University of Southern Mississippi, also said a close presidential election will have an effect on voter behavior.

&uot;It’s more fun to watch a ballgame that’s close rather than one that’s a blowout,&uot; he said.

But, Parker pointed out that the national election is only up in the air in a few states, like Minnesota and Michigan, and those states will likely be the deciding factor in who wins the White House.

But, Mississippians — many of which are confident the state’s electoral votes will go to Bush, Parker said — may not be as apt to run to the polls.

&uot;Blended&uot; platforms of both candidates on many national issues, as well as a satisfactory economy, will also keep voter percentages down, Parker said.

Still, some groups, with special interest in state or local amendments, have more of an incentive to organize and vote.

&uot;Some groups are more inclined to vote because they feel threatened,&uot; he said, citing labor unions as an example.

Also, the Democratic party has historically been more active in organized efforts to encourage people to vote, Parker said.

&uot;Getting out the vote is more important to the Democratic party than Republicans,&uot; he said. &uot;Because typically, the socioeconomic support of the Republican party is more likely to vote without being prodded.&uot;

Eva Dunkley, a co-chairman of the NAACP’s Get Out the Vote committee, said she thinks the presidential race has made it easy to encourage people to vote.

&uot;We’ve been letting people know just how important this election is,&uot; she said.

The stakes are high in this year’s election for Democrats, so voting may take higher precedent.

Beverly Merrill, a member of the Adams County Democratic Executive Committee, said her party will also be using a phone bank this weekend to encourage people to vote.

But the party is going to be non-partisan with its calling and not promote any particular candidate.

&uot;People need to vote,&uot; she said. &uot;You’re affecting your future and your grandchildren.&uot;

Non-partisan encouragement

Even those without a political agenda are urging voters to go to the polls.

The Rev. John Scott Jr., pastor of Christian Hope Baptist Church, said he plans to use the pulpit to encourage his congregation to vote this week.

&uot;To serve as a reminder, because sometimes people have the understanding that their vote doesn’t matter,&uot; Scott said.

Scott said exercising the right to vote is not only a civic duty, but a Biblically-supported responsibility of all Christians.

&uot;Just as Jesus said to render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, our obedience unto the government is required in several passages,&uot; he said.

The Rev. Gary Nunn, pastor of First Baptist Church in Vidalia, urged people to vote by writing a column in his church’s newsletter.

Nunn said he viewed it as his responsibility to encourage people to vote. He also views it as his responsibility to encourage people to vote based on their Christian beliefs.

&uot;(I’m) not going to tell you who to vote for,&uot; Nunn said. &uot;(But) I am going to encourage you to vote and to vote based on your Christian standards.&uot;

Because of the closeness in the presidential race, Nunn thinks people have been talking about it more. Church members have also been praying about it, he said. &uot;In our prayer times, we’re praying that God’s will be done and that the person more in-line with God’s standards be elected,&uot; he said.

Adams County Circuit Clerk M.L. &uot;Binkey&uot; Vines said his office has made television commercials and radio spots to encourage voter registration and turnout.

Clerks have also visited nursing home residents to notarize their absentee ballots for them, Vines said.

And local groups seem to have made &uot;getting out the vote&uot; a main objective this year, Vines said.

From all indications, Vines said, the interest in this year’s race has been high.

About 600 voters have submitted absentee ballot about 200 more than usual in earlier elections, Vines said.

And a large number of students away at college have been mailing in absentee ballots, Vines said.

Edwina Petersen, Natchez Senior Citizen Multi-Purpose Center programs director, said the center will be doing its part to get older voters to the polls. Those seniors who come to the center on Election Day will receive a free ride to the polls through Natchez Transit, she said.

&uot;I would say a lot of seniors are registered, they just lack a way to get to where they vote,&uot; Petersen said.

As a retired high school government teacher, Petersen said she begins encouraging visitors to the senior center to vote several weeks before the election.

And since senior citizens make up a large part of the area’s population, their vote is even more important, she said

Most seniors are motivated to vote, but lack a way of getting to the polls, Petersen said, and that’s where Natchez Transit and the senior center come in.

&uot;Sometimes it’s complacency (that keeps seniors from voting), but mainly it’s lack of transportation,&uot; she said.

Voter apathy

As chairman of the Adams County Election Commission, Bob Barrett said he is aware of many local groups that are actively recruiting citizens to travel to the polls, but he fears many will still not vote.

&uot;Apathy a lack of faith in government leaders has moved the public to be indifferent to any number of government matters,&uot; Barrett said.

A small turnout in recent elections is discouraging, Barrett said, especially when an election costs the county about $28,000 to organize and operate.

Only 53 percent of registered voters in Adams County turned out for the 1999 general election.

&uot;And if it’s a beautiful day Tuesday, they won’t be voting. They’ll be out shopping for clothes or jogging in the park,&uot; Barrett said.

Along with a general disillusionment of government leaders, Barrett also attributes voter apathy to an attitude of complacency and overall lack of patriotic spirit. &uot;I know kids in school now that don’t even know the pledge of allegiance,&uot; he said.

Barrett believes older generations, those that lived through military conflicts and periods of sacrifice, value the right to vote more than those who have never been faced with a &uot;major conflict.&uot;

&uot;I think people will have to feel the suffering that comes with loss of freedom before they take their right to vote seriously,&uot; he said.

Clyde Ray Webber, Concordia Parish clerk of courts, said he is surprised by the lack of organized activity in the Louisiana parish.

Even with a close presidential race, Webber said he believes many voters will not cast a ballot Tuesday because of the absence of local political conflict. &uot;When you don’t have a hotly-contested local race, not as many people vote,&uot; he said.

Sixty-six percent of registered voters turned out for the last general election held in the parish, but Webber estimates a decline, only about 50 to 60 percent turnout, Tuesday.

Still, Webber said the tight presidential race might bring out a few voters who would have stayed at home otherwise.

&uot;But, I don’t think it’ll make that much of a difference,&uot; he said.

Staff writers Emily Whitten and April Wortham can be reached at 442-9101 or by e-mail at or april.wortham