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Election results flashed on big screen at election party

November 4, 2012

By RUTH MORGAN

The Starkville News election results flashed on a large screen mounted high on the side of Puller’s Drug Store in no way compared to The New York Times Building in Times Square whose famous electric news ticker display was first used to announce the results of the United States presidential election of 1928.

One Times Square was originally completed in 1904 to serve as the new headquarters of The New York Times. Currently, this building attracts nearly a million spectators yearly. In 1975 and 1980, Newsday sponsored the revival of the election display. Dow Jones, the parent of The Wall Street Journal, now sponsors the ticker.

The Starkville News, then owned by Henry and Morris Meyer, did their best with all that was available at the time to host an elaborate election party in downtown Starkville for everyone in the county in 1947.

They established a network to secure fast returns where election returns would be flashed on a large screen attached to the west side of Puller’s Drug Store located at 201 Main Street and announced over a loudspeaker. Swift and complete coverage of election returns in county, district and state races would be available at the Starkville News Election Party beginning around 7 p.m. Tuesday night.

The party was to be held in a roped-off area on Lafayette Street off Main Street between the old M&F Bank Building (now Polka Tots) and Puller’s Drug Store (now Christine’s Couture, LLC). Police Chief Richey and the city police department in cooperation with the News were to supervise the party. The Starkville News and the Henry Reynolds Insurance Company were located in the M&F Bank Building and the theaters were only a few blocks away that made this an excellent location for the huge party.

The election returns were to be given over a loudspeaker system and projected on a huge screen on Puller’s Drug Store for those who wanted to keep a running score of the returns.  The projector was set up in Henry Reynolds’s Insurance Office where all returns would be received.

The News had established an elaborate telephone network to secure election returns as fast as they were tabulated. A complete coverage of the 17 precincts would reflect local voting early in the party. The smaller precincts would probably finish their tabulation before 10 pm.

Direct telephone connection with Northeast Mississippi counties would give returns on the District Attorney, Highway commissioner and Public Service commissioner races in North Mississippi.

With the voters of the state marking a "yard-long" ballot, the state races were expected to be exceedingly slow. The election returns, however, were to be tabulated by the News Office so long as new returns were available. The gubernatorial and other state races would probably start shaping up around midnight.

Both telephones in the News office would be constantly connected with long distance lines and no local calls were to be accepted during the election party.

The newspaper made all arrangements for the citizens of Oktibbeha County and cordially invited everyone to attend the election party on Tuesday night.

Approximately 4,000 persons crowded downtown Starkville on Tuesday night overflowing the roped-off section of Lafayette Street and partial blocking of Main Street to see and hear election returns at the Starkville News party.

The crowd begin gathering about 6:30 pm and did not start disbanding until around midnight after the trend of the county voting had been determined. The majority stayed until about 2 am when the last State report was given.

Faced with "yard-long" ballots in most counties, the returns were very slow. Bell School House was the first precinct in the county completed and reported to the News about 9 p.m.  By midnight, 12 of the 17 boxes were counted including the Northeast Starkville Precinct.

The counting at Sturgis and the other Starkville boxes were not completed until about 5 a.m. Wednesday morning.

By midnight a clear trend was revealed in the Starkville race. Governor Wright, even in early returns took a commanding lead in the governor’s race.

Oktibbeha County voters swarmed to the polls in 17 precincts to record the heaviest balloting in the history of the county. It climaxed an election that ran cool from the gubernatorial race on down to the beat offices. The election was minus mud slinging, gross accusations and scandal — most, unusual in Mississippi primary.

Though many indications had been apparent, the trend of the Oktibbeha races was puzzling by most of the would-know prognosticators. One of the big factors in the county vote were the women who did not figure in the drug-store talk on which election outcomes are based.

Another factor that might have figured in the Oktibbeha vote is the many hundreds of service men who were voting for the first time since returning from the war. Though there was no veterans’ political organization in the county, it was believed that their vote would be an important factor.

Of most interest was the Sheriff’s race with four candidates seeking the office-the smallest field in a decade of Oktibbeha politics. All four candidates, Bill Harpole, E.D. Odum, W.P. Phillips and Edwin G. Sanders, addressed the Starkville American Legion rally and the Sturgis political gathering. All actively worked the county.

Of equal interest was the supervisors’ race in the five County Beats. County voters took these races seriously-and rightly so, for these are the men that handle the county business.

In Beat One, incumbent C.L. Barnett faced opposition from Felder Josey and Arthur Roy Price. Roy Blankenship and P.T. Fulghum, incumbent, sought office in beat Two. Beat Three had a full field with six candidates seeking the supervisor’s seat. They were:  J.A. Fulgham, Shellie C. Fulgham, Walter B. Harpole, S. O’Brian, George R. Thompson and L.H. Turner.

Burnice Jackson, S.H. McMinn, and Joe W. Skelton opposed Grady Quinn for re-election in Beat Four and M.T. Harvey opposed the incumbent in Beat Five, T.C. Gray.

R.L. Whitmire and M.C. Landrum sought the Justice of the Peace job in Beat Four and James L. Kellum and Lee (Pop) Smith ran for the Constable’s job in Beat One.

With the Tax Assessor and Chancery Clerk reelected without opposition, the only countywide race besides the sheriff’s contest was for circuit clerk. In this race L. D. Lewis and Woster L. Templeton challenged Orville L. Ray’s bid for another term.

Of particular interest in Oktibbeha citizens was Jesse White’s race for Insurance Commissioner. He polled in 10 to 1 in Oktibbeha County.

Bill Harpole who had been with the State Highway Patrol ran for sheriff and won by 700 votes over the others running. Harpole was born in Maben where he was elected mayor of that town at the age of 23. He was a veteran of WWII having served 39 months in the Air Corps.

He said, "As sheriff, I pledge to be honest and straightforward. I shall not try to make my way into this great responsibility by straddling or dodging. I am entering this race in the belief that all public offices are established for your service and your benefit; it was never intended that they should be maintained at your expense, merely for gratification of the office holder.  The sheriff in his official capacity is your protection, the protection of your family, of your community and your county. I will honestly and energetically enforce all laws. I hope to make myself the trusted friend of all law-abiding people and the nemesis of all who trample the law and thereby trespass on you."

Oktibbeha County gave Judge John C. Stennis an overwhelming majority vote to help place the friendly district judge into the highest office offered by the State of Mississippi, a seat in the United States Senate.

In a telephone conversation with the Starkville News, Judge Stennis said, “We are over the hump with about 400 precincts missing.  I want to thank the good people of Oktibbeha County for their support and I am coming up to see you before I go to Washington."

His talking points were on constructive work for the betterment of Mississippi.

He said, "My election came as a result of the individual efforts of hundreds of friends, both old and new in every section of the state." 

Judge John C. Stennis made his first statewide race by defeating five other candidates (L.R. Collins, W.M. Colmer, Forrest Jackson, Paul Johnson and John Rankin) in an election to fill the five-year unexpired Senate term of the late Theodore Bilbo.

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