Election Commissioners

By Clayton Crockett | LSU Student

In the words of Lafayette Parish Clerk of Court Louis Perret, Tuesday marks the Super Bowl of Louisiana's election season.

As if for a major sporting event, parishes across the state are bracing for whatever obstacles may arise on Election Day – the crown jewel being the election of the President – with thousands of veteran poll workers assigned and at the ready.

The Louisiana citizens in charge of maintaining order and guiding the voting process at each precinct and station are called commissioners, and while the number of available — or willing — commissioners fluctuates from parish to parish, Lafayette and East Baton Rouge parishes have stockpiled a surplus of commissioners to handle a hectic election day.

"Lafayette is blessed," Perret said. With approximately 900 qualified commissioners ready to work in the parish, about 700 will be stationed, with the remainder on standby in case of an emergency. "You add all that up and, logistically, it's a lot of people."

Brandon Abadie, director of elections for East Baton Rouge Parish, said the parish of the capital will be hiring nearly 1,600 commissioners of the approximate 2,050 available.

Though necessary at times, neither parish has had to conduct public outreach to convince its population to take part in the election process in recent memory, and the raise in pay the day-job received in 2007 may have something to do with it.

"It pays $200 a day, but that sure is an awful long day," said Perret. The core duty of the commissioner is to "assist the voters in exercising their election rights."

"Believe me, it's not hard," Perret laughed.

Polling commissioners are generally required to be 18 years of age, registered to vote in their parish of residence, free of election-related convictions and not entitled to voting assistance, such as being blind or otherwise unable to vote on his or her own. They also are required to complete a course and a test, which Perret said lasts about an hour.

Aaron Friedman, senior at LSU from Destrehan, recalled the listless days he worked as polling commissioner in Jefferson Parish elections. Although the position requires a worker of voting age, Friedman took advantage of the exception granted to 17-year-old students with the required training. He found out about the job through an advertisement his mother received in the mail.

"I did not know about the pay, but she mentioned that it paid well. I made $400 in two days. It was great. I bought a bass guitar with the money."

Friedman said the work consisted of arriving early in the morning, setting up the booths and waiting for the day to drag on — with a few DVDs handy to kill the time. "Then we packed up, went home, came back and did the same thing the next day."

Each polling station in Lafayette and East Baton Rouge parishes will be assigned four commissioners with one precinct overseer: the commissioner-in-charge.

Commissioners-in-charge must have served two elections before receiving the position, which comes with a $50 bump in pay, but finding those veteran poll workers isn't much of a chore given the demographic, Perret said.

"I'm going to say in Lafayette the average election commissioner is at least 60-year-old," he said. "We do need the next generation of civic-minded people to step forward."

Election commissioners hold another important duty at the voting booth: watching the poll watchers.

Poll watchers are selected and work on the behalf of the candidates, said Abadie, and if the candidate elects to have them, poll watchers monitor the process to ensure election laws are followed. Each candidate may only have one watcher in the precinct at any given time. "Sometimes candidates file them and sometimes they don't," said Abadie.

The deadline for the campaigns to file their poll watchers to each parish's clerk of court was last Monday, and Perret said many commissioners won't have to worry about poll watchers this time around. "We're not going to have any poll watchers in Lafayette. It's probably because the campaigns have chosen to direct their energies in other areas."

Abadie said issues have arisen in the past regarding poll watchers, as they are forbidden from interfering with the election process in any way, including so much as speaking with the voters present.

"We have had to call and have them removed," he said. "We've had all kinds of instances, [such as] talking to voters as they come in. They're there to observe only."

Louisiana's poll workers are prepared for anything a frenzied election day can throw their way, from machine glitches to rabid skunks scaring the voters away — an issue Perret laughingly recalled.

"It's like starting your car three times a year," he said of the election process. "But overall, we run a very smooth operation."