By Michael Stewart / Executive Editor
Election officials predict between 70 percent to 75 percent of registered voters in Lauderdale County will likely cast ballots in the 2012 election.
In 2008, 75 percent of registered voters in the county voted in the general election in which Republican nominee John McCain squared off against Barack Obama.
Lauderdale County District 5 Election Commissioner Jeff Tate said the prediction of a high turnout is based on the number of absentee ballots cast so far which, he said, is a good indicator of voter turnout.
As of early Saturday morning, a little more than 1,800 registered voters in the county had cast absentee ballots in the 2012 election.
"We are looking at probably over 3,000 total by the end of next week," Tate said of the absentee ballots. "We are just a hair below what we were four years ago. It is still a great turnout. It is much larger than we've had in the three previous years with elections (during non-presidential races)."
In the general election last year, 49 percent of registered voters in the county cast ballots.
Absentee voting continues this week at the Lauderdale County Circuit Clerk's office Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and on Saturday beginning at 8 a.m., and ending promptly at noon.
"It will be illegal to do it after that," Tate said.
There is a chance the number of absentee ballots cast this year could exceed those cast in 2008.
"With this last week you just don't know," Tate said. "They could all come and we could have more."
Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on election day, which is Nov. 6.
Anyone in line when the polls close will be allowed to vote.
"As long as you are in line by 7 p.m., we will not close the doors on you," Tate said. "Even if it takes two hours to get to you — it doesn't matter how long it takes — you will be allowed to vote."
Lauderdale County resident Beau Boutwell, 21, was among a steady stream of voters at the circuit clerk's office Saturday. A student in Starkville, Boutwell said he wanted to make sure his vote counts this year.
"I think everybody should vote," Boutwell said. "Especially the way things are right now. We need to pick a good leader."
Mississippi doesn't have early voting, but that will likely change sometime in the next few years, Lauderdale County Circuit Clerk Donna Jill Johnson said.
Those with scheduling conflicts that could prevent them from voting on election day can cast absentee ballots, however. Students, shift workers and those who work out of town are among those who typically cast absentee ballots.
"Yesterday afternoon we had a lot of power company employees and Red Cross volunteers come in because they had already gotten an emergency alert about the storm," Johnson said of Hurricane Sandy.
Johnson predicted an uptick in those casting absentee ballots this week as the deadline nears.
Those who need their absentee ballots mailed are running out of time, as a notary is sometimes required.
"You don't just mail a ballot," Johnson said. "It's a legal process."
Tate said there is still confusion about the Voter ID law passed by the Mississippi Legislature following a statewide referendum last year.
The Department of Justice has still not signed off on Mississippi's Voter ID law, which would require a valid, government-issued ID for voters. That means voters will not be required to present an ID for this election.
Tate recommends, however, that residents bring their voter registration cards with them to the polls.
"It will help the poll workers," Tate said. "It will help that voter get in and out quicker, but they do not have to have any form of ID to vote."
There is one exception, however.
"There is a law on the books for over 20 years now that says that anybody that registered through the mail, not actually in person here at the circuit clerk's office, and it is their first time to vote, they are required to show some form of identification," Tate said. "But if you registered here at the courthouse, or if you have voted before, you do not have to have ID."