AUTHOR: BOBBY

HED:Clark hopes he is wrong in predicting low voter turnout

By Bobby Harrison

Daily Journal Jackson Bureau

JACKSON - Secretary of State Eric Clark predicted a dismal voter turnout for today's elections, and then challenged Mississippians to prove him wrong.

"We are privileged by the grace of the Good Lord to get to elect our leaders," said Clark, whose office oversees elections statewide. "Most people don't have that privilege. It (voting) is our job and responsibility."

While stressing the importance of voting, Clark said Monday during a news conference that only about 400,000 people (or 20.5 percent of the state's voting-age population) would go to the polls today.

If Clark is right, it would be one of the lowest turnouts in recent history. In 1994, which is the last time the state had similar elections where state offices or presidential candidates were not on the ballot, more than 600,000 people (34 percent of Mississippi's voting-age population) went to the polls.

"I hope I am low," said Clark, a first-term Democrat. "I hope for a higher turnout."

Clark predicted voter participation will be down because on the national level experts are saying today's turnout could be the lowest of this century for congressional races. And in Mississippi, to make matters worse, there is only one seriously contested congressional race.

In the 4th District, which includes most of southwest Mississippi and parts of the Jackson area, Democrat Ronnie Shows of Bassfield, the Southern District Transportation commissioner, and Republican Delbert Hosemann, a Jackson tax attorney, have been running a spirited and of late heated campaign. The seat is open because incumbent Mike Parker, a Brookhaven Republican, opted not to seek re-election.

Incumbents in the other four congressional districts do not face serious threats.

Clark said he expects 30 percent to 35 percent of those 400,000 voters will come from the 4th District.

Across the rest of the state, voters will have an opportunity to elect chancery, circuit and county judges and school board members.

Plus, there will be contested court of appeals races in congressional Districts 2 and 4. In all, five of the 10 spots on the Court of Appeals are up for election, but in the other three posts, the incumbents do not face opposition. Incumbent Court of Appeals justices in Northeast Mississippi are running unopposed, but there are several contested races for other judicial posts in the area.

Those who do vote today will be asked to amend the Mississippi Constitution. The Legislature passed two proposed constitutional amendments during the 1998 session and, if they are approved by a majority today, they will become part of the Mississippi Constitution.

Amendment No. 1 would require that only Mississippi residents be allowed to circulate petitions on initiative efforts. Under Mississippi's initiative law, people can bypass the Legislature and place an issue directly on the ballot if they can gather the signatures of 98,336 registered voters.

Amendment No. 2 would ensure the rights of victims. It would give victims the right to be notified of all court hearings involving the accused and would give the victims the right to be heard at the hearings.

Special elections also will be held on the local level throughout the state to fill vacant positions.

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