Circuit clerks laud successful election despite pandemic, record turnout


From left, Tony Rook, Kim Brown Hood and Teresa Barksdale

From left, Tony Rook, Kim Brown Hood and Teresa Barksdale



Slim Smith



Oktibbeha County Circuit Clerk Tony Rook and Clay County Circuit Clerk Kim Brown Hood didn't have a frame of reference by which to compare Tuesday's presidential election, but both were amazed by its scale.


"Exceptional," Rook said.


"I could never have imagined something like this," said Hood.



Meanwhile, Tuesday's election was the fifth presidential election for Lowndes County Circuit Clerk Teresa Barksdale -- three as a deputy clerk and the last two as circuit clerk.


"I've been through five presidential elections now," Barksdale said. "There's no comparison between this one and those. It's night and day."


Tuesday's election featured turnout of historic proportions. Hood reported 72 percent turnout in Clay County. Turnout percentage in Oktibbeha County was 68 percent. In Lowndes County, 65 percent of registered voters cast a ballot.


"I don't know if that's a record or not," Barksdale said. "But I do know it's way higher than four years ago."


The high turnout meant lines out the door in most voting precincts, but all three circuit clerks reported those lines moved quickly, and the atmosphere at the polling places was genial despite the crowds and safety precautions implemented because of COVID-19 concerns.


"It was the biggest election I've seen, but it was probably the smoothest, too," Barksdale said. "I think people were just so prepared due to the pandemic. We tried to cover all the bases as far as the 'what-ifs.' And the (voters') personality was great. I don't really don't know why, but everybody seemed to try to be cordial."


Rook said it was much the same way in Oktibbeha County.


"Turnout was exceptional and we did have some long lines," Rook said. "I figured some people would be upset with a long wait, but I didn't hear any complaints. Everybody's moods seem to be great."


Election day turnout wasn't the only thing that made the election exceptional. The fear of COVID-19 drove absentee voting to what circuit clerks believe was a record as well. All three counties said the number of absentee votes was roughly doubled from 2016.


"The last six to eight weeks was a challenge for our staff," Rook said. "Fortunately, we were anticipating a lot more absentee votes, so we had put together a really good system to handle that. That made a huge difference, but we were very, very busy in the weeks leading up to the election."


Barksdale said it's unlikely the combination of factors that went into Tuesday's election will ever be replicated.


"Think about it," she said. "We had record turnouts, record absentee voting, a pandemic to deal with and a special election and a runoff right in the middle (for state legislative seats). Like I said, this year's election can't compare with any of the others I've seen."


The circuit clerks were effusive in their praise of everyone involved in the election, from their staff to election commissioners to poll workers.


"We cannot do what we do without good poll workers and I can't be the circuit clerk I want to be without my wonderful staff," Barksdale said. "The election commissioners did a wonderful job. Put that all together and it just flowed, even with the difficult circumstances."



Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]



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