Union County goes for Trump, new flag but mixed on medical marijuana

Union County Circuit Clerk Phyllis Stanford and Election Commissioner Mike Beam examine the 166 affidavit ballots.

Just over 75 percent of registered Union County voters turned out in apparent record numbers Tuesday to cast ballots in several races and issues that have been hotly debated. As is often the case, voters here followed the same trends as the state.

Following are Union County unofficial result numbers including 1,767 absentee ballots.

In the presidential race, electors for Donald Trump received 10,289 votes, or 82 percent topping Joe Biden’s whose electors received 2,145 votes, equating to 17 percent.

The seven other third-party candidates received a total of 145 votes.

In the senate race, incumbent Republican Cindy Hyde-Smith handily won, receiving 9,499 votes compared to Democratic challenger Mike Espy’s 2,633 votes.

Libertarian Jimmy Edwards received 417 votes.

Three constitutional issues were on the ballot, two of which have seen quite a bit of discussion.

The first constitutional issue concerned legalizing medical marijuana in limited situations. One option came from the public while the other was offered as an alternative by the state legislature.

Union Countians gave 5,906 votes for public initiative 65 to legalize medical marijuana while 3,861 voted for the legislative alternative, 65A, if one had to choose between the two. However, the greater question was much closer as 5,720 voted to favor either of the alternatives while 5,750 voted against both choices – only a 30-vote margin.

A second initiative, to abolish the electoral vote received 8,845 votes in favor of getting rid of it and 2,999 votes to keep it. At present, a candidate for state office must not only win a majority of the popular vote but also win in a majority of house districts in the state. If no candidate wins in a majority of districts the Mississippi House of Representatives basically gets to choose whomever they want as winner.

Passage of the initiate means that a state candidate merely has to receive a majority of the popular vote in the general election, or runoff, if no candidate receives a majority the first time around.

Finally, 7,749 people voted in favor of the proposed design for a new state flag after the legislature voted to discard the old design with the Confederate battle flag section. A commission chose the design from about 3,000 submissions and if there had not been enough “yes” votes for the new design, the commission would have to try again with another design next year. The vote against the new design was 4,689.

Some other elective offices were on the ballot as well.

In the Supreme Court race, incumbent Associate Justice Josiah Coleman won, receiving 7,689 votes to challenger Percy Lynchard’s 3.024.

Incumbent First District Congressman, Republican Trent Kelly, received 10,423 votes to easily retain his seat while challenger Antonio Eliason received 1,787.

All five Union County election commissioners were on the ballot, but all five were unopposed. They are Wesley Creighton, First District; Bill Azlin, Second District; Barbara Ann Reed, Third District; T. Michael Beam, Fourth District; and Wayne Wilhite, Fifth District.

The county school board seat for the Fifth County School District was supposed to have been on the ballot, but no one qualified by the deadline. The four remaining board members will appoint someone to fill the vacancy after the first of the year.

At least two individuals including incumbent Wayne Mahon had expressed interest in running but officials said illness kept them from qualifying in time.

The high turnout brought with it some extra concerns.

Some voters faced waiting in line 20 minutes or even more but the voting process itself appeared to be going smoothly; it was the larger-than-usual turnout that was causing a delay. Most were wearing masks and observing social distancing as much as was practical.

Some voters also were unaware that a few polling locations had changed, delaying their voting efforts.

Another distraction was that many people apparently did not determine where they were supposed to vote ahead of Tuesday and, despite publicity and plenty of time to do so, had not bothered to update registration information such as address changes, causing them delays.

The votes were not counted until after 12:30 a.m., mostly because the nearly 1,800 absentee ballots still had to be individually checked and scanned.

Union County was expected to support incumbent president Republican Donald J. Trump but some of the other issues on the ballot had made the outcome unsure because of increased last-minute attention.

Democratic challenger Mike Espy had been polling close to incumbent senator Republican Cindy Hyde-Smith but could not pull out a win. Public opinion seemed to still be somewhat split on the proposed new state flag design but it passed handily. Also, many people did not understand the move to get rid of the electoral vote requirement for state office.

And a flurry of discussion occurred in the past few weeks about the confusing choices concerning legalization of medical marijuana.

A seat on the state Supreme Court was also on the ballot and likely most voters did not even know which candidate was the incumbent (he is Josiah Coleman, first elected in 2012).

Union County has about 16,800 registered voters and it historically has been rare for as many as half to participate in any election. This time, more than 10 percent of the total registered voters cast absentee ballots before Election Day.

Union County Circuit Clerk Phyllis Stanford said there were only about 800 absentee ballots in the election four years ago.

Electronic votes are usually counted fairly quickly with totals ready by 9 p.m. The absentee ballots usually have to be counted then, and they have to be run through a scanner and verified by hand if there is any question. This can take some time if there are many such absentee ballots.

Due to a change in procedure, all the absentee ballots were secured at the courthouse rather than going out to precincts in the individual ballot boxes so they could be counted earlier in the evening and ruled on by the resolution board if necessary.

Unfortunately, the sheer number of absentee ballots still forced election staff to work until after midnight to complete the count.

The county also ended up with 166 affidavit ballots. Those are cast when a voter does not have proper ID or there is some inconsistency in voter registration information. The voter must provide necessary proof of information within five business days before an affidavit vote can legally count.

Below are some scenes from the election process.

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