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A handful of counties could decide the...

A handful of counties could decide the outcome of today’s election

By: Russ Latino - November 7, 2023

A look at the places likely to have the biggest impact in deciding today’s election from the Jackson metro to the Mississippi Gulf Coast, from Desoto County and the hills of Northeast Mississippi to the Delta and Pinebelt.

Anyone who invests in the stock market has heard “past performance is not an indicator of future success.” But that does not mean it’s not relevant.

Past experience in elections gives the public a pretty good idea of where votes will come from for both Republican and Democratic candidates.

Looking at data from the 2019 election between Republican Governor Tate Reeves and former-Attorney General Jim Hood provides good insight into where Reeves and his Democratic challenger, Brandon Presley, will need to pick up votes to win.

Big Picture

In 2019, 884,911 Mississippians cast ballots in the race for governor. Republican Tate Reeves won the office with 459,396 votes (52%). His opponent, Democrat Jim Hood pulled 414,368 votes (47%). Third party candidates received just over 1% of the vote. Here are the counties that will play the biggest role in deciding today’s election for governor:

Super Six

There are six counties that turned out 30,000 or more votes in 2019. Hinds, Rankin, Harrison, Madison, DeSoto and Jackson County accounted for more than 30 percent of the total votes statewide.

Reeves ran up the score in Rankin, Harrison, DeSoto and Jackson County, with between 20,000 and 30,000 votes in each county. These counties represent the biggest potential chunk of votes for Reeves today and he needs them to show up big to secure a victory over Presley. On the flip side, diminished returns in these counties could spell trouble.

CountyReevesHoodThird PartyDifferential
Hinds15,604 (22%)56,131 (77%)649 (1%)Hood +55
Rankin29,861 (64%)16,133 (35%)660 (1%)Reeves +29
Harrison25,836 (58%)17,955 (40%)700 (2%)Reeves +18
Madison19,008 (49%)19,670 (50%)347 (1%)Hood +1
DeSoto22,565 (61%)13,976 (38%)502 (1%)Reeves +23
Jackson County20,888 (64%)11,433 (35%)468 (1%)Reeves +29

Hood made up the ground, besting Reeves in Hinds County by more than 40,000 votes. Hinds is the largest pocket of votes in the state, with over 72,000 votes counted in 2019. Hood also narrowly defeated Reeves in Madison County, 19,670 to 19,008.

As big as Hood’s advantage was in Hinds County, for Presley to have a shot, he needs to not only duplicate the performance, but increase turnout and widen the margin. Reeves would, no doubt, like to pull Madison back into the Republican quiver, but expect it to be close and largely a wash. Republican areas like Madison and Ridgeland are somewhat offset by Democratic areas like Canton.

Because of the enormous lead in Hinds County, Hood actually won the “Super Six” by a slight margin.

10,000 and Above

There are nineteen other counties that had at least 10,000 recorded votes in 2019. Together with the “Super Six,” they comprised nearly 63 percent of the total vote. Reeves had sizable victories in Alcorn, Hancock, Jones, Lamar, Lauderdale, Lee and Pearl River. His margins in each of these places was pivotal to his win in 2019. Both turnout and margin of victory in these counties will play a significant role in whether Reeves maintains the Governor’s mansion.

Reeves picked up wins in Forrest and Lowndes County in 2019, as well, but by razor thin margins. Both counties are likely up for grabs this cycle.

CountiesReevesHoodThird PartyDifferential
Alcorn8,629 (76%)2,649 (23%)156 (1%)Reeves +53
Forrest10,380 (50%)10,223 (49%)326 (1%)Reeves +1
Hancock8,358 (71%)3,278 (28%)154 (1%)Reeves +43
Jones13,784 (65%)7,123 (33%)350 (2%)Reeves +32
Lamar11,817 (68%)5,359 (31%)249 (1%)Reeves +37
Lauderdale11,829 (56%)8,976 (42%)356 (2%)Reeves +14
Lee14,672 (58%)10,293 (41%)207 (1%)Reeves +17
Lowndes8,838 (50%)8,822 (50%)143 (1%)Reeves
Pearl River10,083 (77%)2,856 (22%)212 (1%)Reeves +55

Presley will have his eyes set on eroding or reversing Reeves’ win in Lee County, which is Presley’s stomping grounds.

Outside of Hinds and Madison, Hood’s biggest chunks of votes in counties he won came from Lafayette, Oktibbeha, Warren and Washington. Presley will look to maintain his edge in “college town” counties and grow both raw votes and the margin in Delta counties.

CountiesReevesHoodThird PartyDifferential
Lafayette7,122 (46%)8,162 (53%)207 (1%)Hood +7
Oktibbeha5,425 (43%)7,195 (56%)124 (1%)Hood +13
Warren6,709 (47%)7,438 (52%)176 (1%)Hood +5
Washington3,336 (27%)8,667 (72%)122 (1%)Hood +45

Of course, if 25 counties account for 63 percent of the vote, that means the other 57 counties account for 37 percent. And 37 percent is not nothing. Nonetheless, material swings in turnout or margin in the above counties would be an indicator of where the election is headed early in the night as returns come in.

Absentees and Turnout

In 2019, there were 53,517 absentee ballots accepted statewide. This year, there were 56,396 absentee ballots accepted, a 5 percent increase. Counties won by Hood have seen a 9 percent increase in absentees accepted this cycle. Counties won by Reeves have seen a 3 percent increase in absentees accepted this cycle. However, in terms of raw totals, counties won by Reeves have accepted 47 percent more absentee ballots this cycle than those won by Hood.

Counties Won by Reeves in 2019Counties Won by Hood in 2019Total Absentee Ballots Accepted
2019 Election32,61520,90253,517
2023 Election33,60622,79056,396

As a percentage of the total vote, absentee ballots accepted in 2019 made up 6 percent of the 884,911 total votes in the gubernatorial election. If absentees again represented 6 percent of the total vote, the state could expect a turnout just under 940,000 voters.

Presley likely is encouraged by a 46 percent increase in absentees accepted in Hinds County. There has been a 35 percent increase in absentees accepted in Madison County.

Reeves has reason to be optimistic, as well. Of the big counties likely to swing his direction, DeSoto has more than doubled its absentees requested from just four years ago. Harrison (33%), Jackson (9%), and Rankin (7%) have all seen smaller increases.

Finally, a word of caution into reading too much into absentee ballots. COVID changed the way people vote. There is no guarantee that the percentage of total votes made up by absentees in 2019 will play out this election. Additionally, different demographics have different perspectives on in-person, day of election voting versus early voting.

About the Author(s)
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Russ Latino

Russ is a proud Mississippian and the founder of Magnolia Tribune Institute. His research and writing have been published across the country in newspapers such as The Wall Street Journal, National Review, USA Today, The Hill, and The Washington Examiner, among other prominent publications. Russ has served as a national spokesman with outlets like Politico and Bloomberg. He has frequently been called on by both the media and decisionmakers to provide public policy analysis and testimony. In founding Magnolia Tribune Institute, he seeks to build on more than a decade of organizational leadership and communications experience to ensure Mississippians have access to news they can trust and opinion that makes them think deeply. Prior to beginning his non-profit career, Russ practiced business and constitutional law for a decade. Email Russ: