Voters making a choice impacts primaries

(courtesy photo)
Staff Writer

Candidates have been on the campaign trail for weeks, but this week starts the real push for votes with the Aug. 6 Democratic and Republican primaries just one month away. 

While candidates are pressing the flesh to make sure voters hear their message, they’ve also got to focus on another effort, especially in counties like Clay where all but one candidate for local office is running as a Democrat. 

The problem for them is the state has contested Republican races at the top of the ballot. Voters who want to vote in those races can’t vote in the Democratic primary for local candidates. 

Those local candidates, particularly white candidates, run the risk of losing some of their supporters to the Republican primary. 

“It’s a difficult decision for some voters. I know of people who have come in and voted in the Republican primary when they had relatives, I mean husbands and brothers, on the Democratic ballot,” Clay County Circuit Court Clerk Bob Harrell said of the challenge. 

The last time candidates faced a similar scenario was in 2011. In 2015, the state races weren’t as hotly contested across both parties. 

In 2011, almost 7,100 people voted in the Democratic primary in the county while 250 voted in the Republican. In 2015, when the Republican races, in particular, were mostly shoo-ins, only 150 people voted in the Republican primary while about 6,050 cast ballots in the Democratic primary. 

The numbers don’t sound like much but in the right situations, a few votes can make a difference. And Clay County has had its share of close races in the past that resulted in election challenges. 

“If 20 of your supporters go vote in the Republican primary and you lose by 10 votes, then it’s made a difference. That’s the big issue, making sure your supporters understand how important it is for them to vote in the Democratic primary,” said one Clay County candidate who has opposition in August. 

“I’ve talked to several people who didn’t realize they have to make a decision, vote either Democrat or Republican. They particularly are interested in the Republican governor’s primary and the Republican attorney general’s primary. As they heat up, those races will take away some voters,” the candidate continued. 

Another scenario involves racial voting patterns. 

“Like it or not, African-Americans are the biggest block of Democratic voters and whites are more likely to be Republican voters, it’s just the way it is, the numbers bear that out. In a close race with a black and a white in the primary, the black gets a little edge because some whites will go to the Republican primary. That’s what makes it so important for candidates to make sure voters understand,” said an African-American candidate. 

“It doesn’t mean every black votes Democratic or votes for a black and every white votes for a white or Republican. It’s just the percentages,” the candidate added. 

While Mississippi law doesn’t require voters to register by party affiliation, they can only vote in one primary or the other on Aug. 6. 

The impact carries over. If a person votes in the Republican primary on Aug. 6, they can’t come back and vote in the Democratic runoff three weeks later. The same goes for someone who votes in the Democratic primary; they can’t vote in the Republican runoff although based on the races at this point, the Republicans are less likely to have a runoff. 

The winners of the primaries meet in the November general election. In that election, voters don’t have to pick one ballot or the other. 

“This issue comes up every election and we have to remind people or explain it. I don’t know how big a difference it actually makes but certainly it can. Every vote can make a difference,” said Harrell, who is not seeking another term this year. 

“Eventually, I think we’ll see more people run as Republicans here, if nothing else to make it to November. I also think one day the state may look at having non-partisan local elections, but that may be a dream.”