August 26, 2017 10:13:31 PM
Interim Oktibbeha County Circuit Clerk Angie McGinnis declared September Voter Awareness Month ahead of November's various special elections in effort to drum up interest and increase participation at the ballot box.
Roughly 40 percent of the Oktibbeha County electorate participated in 2015's statewide and county elections, and special election cycles typically see fewer ballots cast than in those and presidential elections.
With countywide races set for chancery and circuit clerk positions, the vacant Mississippi House of Representatives' District 38 seat, District 1 constable and a referendum on the future of OCH Regional Medical Center on Nov. 7's ballot, McGinnis said a repeat of 2015's 40 percent turnout "will not be acceptable."
"(The 2015 turnout) was just sad. I want people to realize how very, very important these offices are and how much work and money goes through them," she said. "Because there are so many seats up for election and the OCH referendum -- such a hot topic right now -- we could see better-than-usual numbers, but we can't have only 40 percent of the county making these decisions."
Staff are ready to register new voters and update voter registration information for those who have changed addresses since the last election. The Oktibbeha County Circuit Court Annex will remain open until noon Oct. 7 -- the last day to register -- for those wishing to participate in November's election.
There are roughly 27,000 registered voters in Oktibbeha County, but only 10,779 people participated in 2015's General Election.
Statistics released by McGinnis' office show only six of 20 countywide precincts -- Bell Schoolhouse, Center Grove/North Adaton, Maben, Craig Springs/South Bradley, South Longview and Sturgis/North Bradley -- would report at least a 50 percent turnout if the same amount of 2015 voters come back to the polls this year.
Using that same metric, six other precincts -- West Starkville, Hickory Grove/Southeast, East Starkville, North Starkville III, Central Starkville and Needmore Starkville -- would report a turnout below 40 percent.
The East Starkville precinct, McGinnis said, could generate the lowest turnout this year. Approximately 883 registered voters live in the area, but only 105 people cast ballots there in 2015.
Using 2015's ballots with the current registered voter base isn't an exact science to predict turnout, however, as McGinnis said the total number of registered voters could be inflated since the county is coming off a presidential election.
Many students use the presidential election cycle to register and vote, she said, and many will either move away after the election or won't return to the polls for local races.
"We could be inflated by about 3,000, but you never can really tell. It's great to have students come in, register and exercise their right to vote, but they need to keep coming out. If they don't live here anymore, they need to transfer their registration and keep voting," she said.
As for why McGinnis believes this year's special election could bring fewer people to the polls than in 2015, she said "election fatigue" is the main culprit.
"There are people that are disgruntled. They're disgruntled with all branches of government, and they're disgruntled with having to (vote again) after they've just done it," she said. "We deserve a better turnout, though. It's very important that we take this time now to let our voters know that if they need to make any type of change to their voter registration, now is the time. It's also time to look into the candidates and the issues now before November gets here."
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch
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