A little more than 13 percent of Mississippi’s registered voters (245,100 people) cast ballots in the June Republican and Democratic primaries for the office of U.S. Senate and for U.S. House posts.

Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann said Wednesday 13 percent turnout “is not acceptable.” His office and others are taking steps to ensure the turnout is much higher for the Nov. 6 general election where there will be two contested U.S. Senate races, four U.S. House races, two Court of Appeals contests and 19 contested chancery judge races and 16 contested circuit judge races across the state.

Hosemann announced the continuation of the “Vote in Honor” program started in the early 2000s allowing Mississippians to vote in honor of members of the military. Now, Hosemann has added a new dimension to the program allowing people to go to the secretary of state’s web page at www.sos.ms.gov and fill out information on the particular soldier being honored by the vote.

“We have a right to cast a ballot, but we also have an obligation,” Hosemann said Wednesday during a news conference at his Jackson office. He said the obligation is to the soldiers who have defended the right to vote through the years.

People have until Oct. 9 to register to vote. In addition to being open on weekdays, local circuit clerk offices will open Saturday morning, Oct. 6 to allow people to register. Other groups, such as Mississippi Votes, are working to register people to vote and to inform Mississippians about the upcoming elections that are of an historic nature in the state.

Arekia Bennett, executive director of Mississippi Votes, a non profit striving to build and improve voter participation, said she believes interest in the Nov. 6 general election is intensifying. She said the unusually high number of absentee ballots being requested for the mid-term election is proof of that increased increase.

“What we are doing on the ground is a direct reflection of the increased interest,” she said.

Bennett said Mississippi Votes also is working to register people to vote and thus far has registered about 1,500 just on Mississippi college campuses. She said data on voter registration efforts off campuses is still being compiled.

The two elections drawing the most interest are the U.S. Senate contests – the regularly scheduled election where state Rep. David Baria of Bay St. Louis is challenging Republican incumbent Roger Wicker of Tupelo and the special election. In the special election, Cindy Hyde-Smith, who was appointed by Gov. Phil Bryant in the spring to fill the post vacated by the early retirement of Thad Cochran, is being challenged by fellow Republican Chris McDaniel, a state senator from Ellisville, former Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy, a Democrat, and Tobey Bartee of Gautier, also a Democrat.

Espy and Hyde-Smith have been leading in the polls. Hyde-Smith is the first woman to serve as senator from Mississippi and Espy, if elected, would be the first African American from Mississippi to serve in the Senate in the modern era.

Espy, McDaniel and Bartee have committed to a debate Oct. 4 at Millsaps College in Jackson. Hyde-Smith has yet to commit to the debate.

The debate could generate additional interest in the upcoming election, as could other activities that are ongoing. For instance, Espy campaigned over the weekend in the state with former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, considered a possible presidential contender in 2020, and President Donald Trump will hold a campaign rally for Hyde-Smith Tuesday in DeSoto County.

Baria has been holding town hall meetings across the state. He also consistently challenges the incumbent Wicker to debate. Thus far, Wicker has not accepted any debate challenge.

At Wednesday’s news conference, Hosemann reiterated that his office consistently works to prevent efforts to penetrate the state voter rolls. He said that effort https://mississippitoday.org/2018/05/31/hackers-target-state-voting-machines-but-with-no-success/is ongoing.

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Bobby Harrison, Mississippi Today’s senior capitol reporter, covers politics, government and the Mississippi State Legislature. He also writes a weekly news analysis which is co-published in newspapers statewide. A native of Laurel, Bobby joined our team June 2018 after working for the North Mississippi Daily Journal in Tupelo since 1984. He is president of the Mississippi Capitol Press Corps Association and works with the Mississippi State University Stennis Institute to organize press luncheons. Bobby has a bachelor's in American Studies from the University of Southern Mississippi and has received multiple awards from the Mississippi Press Association, including the Bill Minor Best Investigative/In-depth Reporting and Best Commentary Column.