The number of Meridian voters going to the polls continued to decline Tuesday more than 30 percent fewer ballots were cast than in the 1993 mayoral election.
On election night four years ago, John Robert Smith collected nearly 65 percent of the vote in an easy victory over former Meridian mayor Jimmy Kemp, an engineer who had held the office from 1985-93, and William Hugh Johnson, who received about 4 percent.
In his first race for mayor in 1993, Smith got about 60 percent of the vote over attorney Bill Ready's 31 percent, Johnson's 6 percent and Dock Everett's 3.8 percent.
A total of 8,459 votes were cast in the mayor's race in 1997, down 14 percent from 9,889 cast in 1993.
In remarks after winning the mayor's job for the second time, Smith said his margin of victory was a foundation on which to move forward.
At the time, he said his first priority was to fill a void left by the departure of Delco-Remy American, a major manufacturer of starter-motors at a plant in Meridian. That loss of 400 jobs paying an average wage of $30 an hour has not been replaced, although officials say they are working on it.
Smith also said in 1997 he wanted to extend "Project Pride," an economic development effort in a poor Meridian neighborhood, to the city's Red Line District. Smith said he is still working toward that end.
About 10:30 Tuesday morning, a self-appointed town crier could be heard in downtown Meridian shouting, "Don't forget to vote for Bill McBride … don't forget to vote for Bill McBride."
Generally, people don't mind having their pictures taken voting. One man Tuesday morning, however, was so upset that photographer Paula Merritt of The Meridian Star had taken his photo that he insisted she erase it from her digital camera.
At 1 p.m. Tuesday, poll workers Eloise Stephenson and Gip Gibson at the Mississippi State University-Meridian Campus precinct had processed 235 ballots. An expected rush about noon had not occurred. "We're expecting one about 5 p.m., if it doesn't rain," Stephenson said.
Poll workers at the Frank Cochran Center reported slow but steady turnout. At 1:15 p.m., 246 people had cast ballots. Almost 700 are registered to vote there.
Between 1,200 and 1,300 people are registered to vote at Northcrest Baptist Church. Poll workers said the day started out with a small rush as people voted on their way to work. At 1:25 p.m., 253 had cast ballots and poll workers were expecting a total of about 500 voters by the end of the day.
Bailiff Jim Wilhelm at Poplar Springs Elementary School reported high turnout at 1:35 p.m., when more that 60 percent of the precinct's 1,600 registered voters had already cast ballots. Poplar Springs Elementary is the city's largest voting precinct.
At 1:45 p.m., poll workers at Meridian High School reported light turnout with 350 voters casting ballots. About 1,500 people are registered to vote at MHS. A heavy turnout there is 1,100-1,200 votes.
Billy Todd, running as an Independent in Decatur's Ward 1, did not receive a single vote. City Clerk Jinya Lea Clark said he would have had to concede the election if he had won because of a recent move from Ward 1 to Ward 2. "I guess he didn't even come back to vote for himself," she joked Tuesday night.