Higher absentee ballot requests could mean larger Tuesday election turnout

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Eric J. Shelton, Mississippi Today/ Report for America

Registered Mississippi voters people can vote in either one of the two primaries on Tuesday. But a person who votes in one primary on Tuesday cannot vote in the runoff of the other party three weeks later.

Turnout for Tuesday’s party primary elections could be strong – at least stronger than the last statewide elections in 2015 – based on the number of absentee ballots requested and returned to local circuit clerks.

For the current election, 46,618 absentee ballots have been requested and 42,575 have been returned, according to numbers provided by the office of Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann.

In the 2015 election, 41,392 absentee ballots were requested and 37,318 were returned.

The number of absentee ballots requested and returned is generally seen as an indicator of the size of the turnout for the upcoming election. Mississippi does not have early voting, but anyone who will be out of the county on Election Day can vote via absentee ballot either by going to the circuit clerk’s office or by requesting and returning an absentee ballot.

Absentee ballots were due back to the circuit clerk’s office by 5 p.m. Monday. Military and overseas voters must have their absentee ballot returned by 7 p.m. on Election Day.

Most political observers believe Tuesday could mark the first time in the modern era in an election for state offices where more people vote in the Republican primary than in the Democratic primary.

In 2015, 299,278 voted in the Democratic primary compared to 279,428 on the Republican side. But this year there are more hotly contested primaries on the statewide level in the Republican primary – including for the office of governor. And since 2015, there have been counties, such as Tippah in north Mississippi, where the local officials have switched to the Republican Party and the bulk of the candidates running on the local level are Republican in those counties. The combination of the contested statewide elections and the growing number of local Republican candidates is expected to drive up turnout in the Republican primary.

While turnout is expected to be larger in the Republican primary than in the Democratic primary, more Democratic absentee ballots had been requested and returned as of late Monday. There have been 26,382 Democratic ballots requested and 23,615 returned compared to 20,236 Republican ballots requested and 18,598 returned.

Under state law, people can vote in either one of the two primaries on Tuesday. But a person who votes in one primary on Tuesday cannot vote in the runoff of the other party three weeks later.

But if a person does not vote in either primary on Tuesday, he or she can vote in a runoff of either party, but not both parties, on Aug. 27.

A runoff is mandated if no candidate garners a majority vote in the first primary.

According to the Secretary of State’s office, there are more than 1.8 million Mississippians registered to vote out of a voting-age population of about 2.2 million.