Mississippians turned out to vote in record numbers in 2020, according to final certified numbers released recently by the secretary of state’s office, though Mississippi’s record turnout still lagged behind most other states.

In this year’s election, 1,313,894 Mississippians voted. Total turnout this year broke the previous record of 2008, when 1,289,865 voted in the election between former President Barack Obama and John McCain, the 2008 Republican nominee for president.

President Donald Trump captured the most votes of any candidate running in a contested election in Mississippi with 756,789 votes, or 57.6%. McCain was the previous top vote-getter with 724,597 votes in 2008.

In Mississippi’s hotly contested U.S. Senate race, Mike Espy garnered the most votes ever for a Democrat running for statewide office in a losing effort on Nov. 3 to incumbent U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde Smith.

Espy won 578,806 votes, or 44.1%, against Hyde-Smith. The previous record vote-getter on the Democratic side in Mississippi was Obama in 2012, when he captured 562,949 votes in his re-election bid. In Mississippi that year, Republican Mitt Romney won 710,746 votes.

Before Espy’s 2020 record, former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove received the most votes for a Democrat running for a Senate seat with 560,064 votes, of 45%. Musgrove was running in a special election against Republican Roger Wicker.

Hyde-Smith received 709,539 votes, or 54.1%, on Nov. 3. She received more than 47,000 fewer votes than Trump and ran 3.5 points behind the president.

Prior to final votes being tabulated, Secretary of State Michael Watson had surmised in late November that while Mississippi had a strong turnout, it was not a record turnout.

“I think we will eclipse our number from 2016 of total votes cast, but I don’t think it will be as much as we expected,” Watson said at the time. “…I don’t think it is going to be a huge increase over 2016.”

But after record numbers of absentee ballots had to be counted in populous counties, the final numbers show that turnout not only eclipsed 2016 totals but also set a new record.

“I am incredibly proud of the extraordinary voter turnout this year,” Watson said.

PODCAST: Secretary of State Michael Watson discusses 2020 elections.

Dave Wasserman, a statistician and U.S. House editor for the Cook Political Report, tweeted that there was an 8.6% increase in voter turnout over 2016, which was a relatively light turnout election in Mississippi, and a 1.3% swing against Trump in the state when compared to 2016.

While the most people in the history of the state voted on Nov. 3, turnout still was relatively low when compared to the nation. Turnout of eligible voters was 66.7% nationwide in 2020, according to Statista. Mississippi was in the bottom 10 states with 60.4% turnout.

While the compilation of turnout for 2020 is still in the early stages and could be revised, it most likely still will reflect a record turnout for the nation. The previous modern-era record turnout, percentage-wise, occurred in 1960 when 62.8% of the eligible voters participated. In the 1800s, there was higher estimated turnout, but during that time more than half of the population, including women and some minorities, were barred from voting.

In advance of the 2020 election, the Espy campaign said to win it would need a record turnout among African American voters who are more inclined to vote Democratic in Mississippi. While information on the 2020 election is still being compiled, Joe O’Hern, Espy’s campaign manager, told Mississippi Today he believes Espy achieved that record turnout among Black Mississippians.

“You probably saw historic Black turnout this cycle,” said O’Hern. “… Even with nobody thinking Biden was going to win Mississippi, you probably saw historic Black turnout.”

That turnout helped Espy achieve lofty numbers for a Mississippi Democrat, but not enough for him or Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden to win the state.

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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.