The state of Mississippi is going to be the last state to fill a seat in the U.S. Senate this midterm election cycle when voters go to the polls on Tuesday, Nov. 27.
There is only one race on the ballot, but it will be an important one, as U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith is challenged by Mike Espy to determine who will fill out the remaining time of now-retired Sen. Thad Cochran’s term, which ends in January 2021.
Hyde-Smith, the former state Commissioner of Agriculture and Commerce until she was appointed by Gov. Phil Bryant to the Senate when Cochran resigned in April, faces Espy, a former Mississippi Congressman who was U.S. Secretary of Agriculture in the Clinton Administration.
While the special election is considered a non-partisan vote without party labels, it is widely known that Hyde-Smith is a Republican who has gotten support from President Donald Trump, while Espy is a Democrat and is getting backing from Democratic supporters.
Tuesday’s vote was required when none of the four candidates running on Nov. 6, including Espy and Hyde-Smith, received a 50-percent plus one vote majority of those who participated.
While many times run-off elections do not get the same interest as the general election, the Nov. 27 ballot may buck that trend, if current absentee voting numbers are any indication.
That’s according to DeSoto County Circuit Clerk Dale Kelly Thompson Monday afternoon.
“Turnout has gone really well,” Thompson said. “You’re looking at about 500 right now (Monday) which is a good turnout for a run-off election like it is. It should be quite many more than that, though, because it’s been steady. The interest seems to be good.”
Tuesday’s election is also important for the Republican majority in Washington, which is now at 52 for the Republicans with Democrat Bill Nelson’s weekend concession to Republican Gov. Rick Scott in a Florida Senate race.
There may be an unfortunate extra interest in Tuesday’s vote in DeSoto County after an incident happened at an Olive Branch polling place on Nov. 6.
A voter was seen casting a ballot wearing a T-shirt that had a noose and a Confederate flag and the words “Mississippi Justice” on the front.
A photo was taken of the man identified as Clayton Hickey voting and social media went viral, causing a strong negative response.
Hickey, an employee of the Regional One Health hospital in Memphis, was eventually released from his job by the hospital in their response to the occurrence.
DeSoto County Election Commission Chairman Danny Klein Monday said it was an unfortunate incident that placed a bad light on the county, but added Hickey actually had the right to wear what he wore that day.
“As long as he’s a voter and it’s not campaign material, he’s got freedom of speech,” Klein explained. “There’s nothing legally we can do, although he did paint a bad picture of Mississippians.”
Klein went on to say the actual person in the wrong that day was the person who shot the photo. There are explicit instructions posted at all polling places stating cell or mobile phones are not allowed and the photographer actually broke that policy.
“It’s just a bad situation,” Klein explained. “My recommendation would be to tell my bailiffs to ask voters politely, if they see something like that, to cover it up, but if an individual wants to come in and vote, there’s nothing we can do.”
Thompson’s offices in the DeSoto County Courthouse will be open during the week to allow for absentee voting, but the Thanksgiving Day holiday will mean two fewer days to vote absentee.
“We will be open 8 a.m.-5 p.m. daily through Wednesday and then we will be open Saturday from 8 a.m.-12 noon,” Thompson said. “Mail-in ballots have to be received by Monday, Nov. 26.”
Polls across DeSoto County and the state will be open from 7 a.m.-7 p.m. on Run-Off Election Day.
Bob Bakken is Staff Writer for the DeSoto Times-Tribune.