Ballot order could be critical in election

A battle is brewing over ballot order in Mississippi, and Democrats believe the decision of a Republican-controlled board could influence how many people vote in a tightly contested special election for U.S. Senate.

Tim Phillips is campaign manager for Democrat Ronnie Musgrove, who’s challenging Republican U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker in a race to finish the final four years of a term started by the GOP’s Trent Lott.

Phillips told The Associated Press on Thursday that he’s concerned the state Board of Election Commissioners, made up of two Republicans and one Democrat, will recommend that local officials put the Musgrove-Wicker contest at the very bottom of the Nov. 4 ballot.

Phillips said such a decision could mean that “tens of thousands of falloff voters would not vote,” in the U.S. Senate race and he believes that would hurt Musgrove, a former governor.

Phillips said he has received two informal opinions from Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann’s office in the past few weeks suggesting that Hosemann might recommend putting the Musgrove-Wicker race at the end of the ballot, after contests for the state Court of Appeals.

History shows there is typically a significant drop-off in the number of Mississippians who vote in top-of-the-ticket races such as president and senator and those who vote in races further down the ballot, where the candidates might be less familiar.

A ballot counts even if some races are left blank.

Hosemann spokeswoman Pamela Weaver said Thursday that the office is researching state laws before making an official recommendation about ballot order.

“We’re checking. We’re rechecking. We want to be sure we’re fair to everybody,” Weaver said.

Hattiesburg American