June 5, 2014 10:27:32 AM
Mississippi's primary election may have been a hot topic around the country, but that buzz didn't translate into heavy turnout at the polls.
Combined voter turnout in Tuesday's primary elections was less than 20 percent in Lowndes, Oktibbeha, Clay and Noxubee counties.
Of 87,917 registered voters, only 17,005, or 19.3 percent, cast ballots.
Oktibbeha County had the highest turnout of the four counties with 5,791 of 25,710 registered voters going to the polls for a turnout rate of 22.5 percent.
Clay County had a 21.9 percent turnout, with 3,127 of 14,311 registered voters casting ballots.
In Lowndes County, turnout was 18 percent with 6,958 of 38,667 registered voters casting ballots.
The lowest turnout, by far, came in Noxubee County where only 1,129 of the 9,209 registered voters went to the polls.
On June 24, voters will have another opportunity to make their voices heard at the ballot box. Incumbent U.S. Senator Thad Cochran and challenger Chris McDaniel each failed to obtain a 50-percent-plus-one majority vote after all state precincts reported their tallies, forcing a runoff on June 24. Cochran, who is vying for a seventh term, finished with 153,654 votes statewide, 1,386 votes behind McDaniel's 155,040. McDaniel had 49.5 percent of the vote to Cochran's 49 percent. A third candidate, Tom Carey, finished with the other 1.5 percent, or 4,789 votes.
The Cochran-McDaniel race will be the only item on the ballot. Only those who voted in the Republic Primary on Tuesday or those who did not vote are eligible to vote in the runoff. Those who voted in the Democratic Primary cannot vote in the GOP runoff.
Lowndes County Circuit Clerk Haley Salazar said while poor turnouts are the norm in primaries, she expected more voters for the highly contentious U.S. Senate race. Glenn Hamilton, who holds the same office in Oktibbeha County, said the turnout was better than he would have guessed.
"That's a little lower than I anticipated," Salazar said.
Salazar said previous history with runoffs does not provide any real insight into voter turnout.
"It could go either way," she said. "We've had it where it was lower for a runoff and we've had it where there were more. There are a lot of different factors -- how hard (the campaigns) get out and work and how much publicity, among a lot of other different things."
This will be Hamilton's first runoff as circuit clerk, but he said in his experience in state politics, the runoff generally has a smaller turnout than the primary.
"The rule of thumb is fewer voters come back for the runoff," Hamilton said. "It's contingent upon what particular race it is."
Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.
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