Primary "A Chore Getting Started" - - The News for South Mississippi

Primary "A Chore Getting Started"

A set of steps along Highway 90 in west Gulfport once took people to the main floor of the Charles Walker Senior Center. On past election days, the complex became a voting precinct. And then Katrina wiped it off election commission maps.

Frances Underwood was a fixture at the Walker center during previous elections.

"I've been over there for 20-something years, 22 years. So it's really odd," she said.

Underwood's precinct moved from the waterfront to fire station number two on 42nd Avenue. She had no complaints about the new set up. Her problem was with the democrats turnout for its Senate race primary. Three poll workers could count the number of morning voters on one hand.

"Two. Only two," she said, holding up two fingers on her left hand.

"I worked one time though, had five or six all day long. So, I'd be surprised if we got over 20-25 today," she said.

Not exactly what Fred Hutchings signed up for when he agreed to be a post-Katrina poll worker.

"I thought there would be more people," the first time poll worker said.

Jeff Fayard thought the same thing. Once Fayard checked in, he was escorted to new touch screen voting machines. Seventy-seven Mississippi counties used the Diebold technology to conduct this election.

"It didn't bother me," Fayard said. "I think it's a good idea the way that is. Not bad. I like that. But you better learn how to do it and do it right."

The "Help America Vote Act" requires all states to conform to a standardized voting system. That's why the federal and state governments came up with $15 million to buy the Diebold technology for Mississippi.

The new technology caused a few early headaches -- especially for precinct managers. Underwood admitted being a bit nervours about overseeing a polling place with unfamiliar voting machines.

"Oh the machines," she lamented. "It's a different, new ballgame. I guarantee you. Everything is different than what we're used to. We're used to the other machines, they were easier to take care of, everything. This is a whole new ballgame."

This primary was the touch screen technology's first test. Jackson County reported a few glitches. But overall, the Secretary of State thinks the system worked -- even if the number of people who actually used it was way below average.

And that's what Jeff Fayard couldn't understand. When the Long Beach voter was done voting at the West Harrison County Civic Center, he asked, "Where the heck are all the people at?"

Fayard's attitude created a moment of excitement for an otherwise bored group of poll workers.

Harrison County democrats moved five of their hurricane damaged Long Beach and Pass Christian precincts into the spacious Espy Avenue civic center. Yet in five hours, those precincts had a combined total of 15 voters.

"It's amazing," poll worker Paul Francis said. "You wouldn't think that the turnout could be this low."

Voter turnout was also light in the Delta, where a contentious 2nd District congressional campaign set up the most watched race in the state. U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson was trying to fend off challenges from state Rep. Chuck Espy and perennial candidate Dorothy Benford.

There were no Republican primaries in Mississippi on Tuesday. If runoffs are needed for any of the three Democratic races, they'll take place June 27.

by Brad Kessie

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