Fix democracy: Become a poll worker

Louis Perret looks at voting machines
Clerk of Court Louis Perret examines voting machines ahead of the 2022 elections Photo by Robin May
  • Problem: Poll workers are aging out. They play a critical role in the gears of democracy.
  • Small Fix: Sign up to work the polls this November and beyond.
  • Impact: A new generation of trained poll workers. Democracy.
  • The Takeaway: Voting is the lifeblood of our democracy, and it happens at the local level. (Plus you get paid.)

Lenora Meaux started working as an election commissioner about 35 years ago—for the money. 

At the time she needed the income the job provided, but over the next few decades, she grew to love the opportunity. She’s always been a people person and enjoyed interacting with the colorful personalities who passed through her polling place at Acadiana High School.

But, she didn’t work in the 2020 election. Meaux, 73, is considered high risk for Covid-19. Although she has kept her election commissioner training up to date, she is not planning to sign up to work this November for health reasons.

Jane Slusser is a program manager for Power the Polls, a national organization focused on recruiting a new generation of poll workers. She says in 2020, the average election worker was over the age of 60.

“It’s an aging workforce,” says Slusser. “Covid accelerated people retiring out of this role.”

Power the Polls recruited 700,000 poll workers for the 2020 election in response to the country’s record shortage. She says the campaign has struck a chord, especially with people motivated by the current political climate. 

“There’s a lot of coverage around threats to election workers,” says Slusser. “That can be a deterrent, but we also find it does motivate people to sign up.”

Clancy Ratliff, secretary of the Lafayette Parish Democratic Party Executive Committee (DPEC), became a poll worker in 2020 for the first time. Prompted by a personal experience with voter intimidation during the 2016 election, she wanted to do whatever she could to ensure people had an equal opportunity to cast their ballots.

“I don’t want anyone to be intimidated out of voting,” says Ratliff. “I’m going to help people deal with it if it happens.” 

She didn’t witness anything concerning during her 12-hour shift in 2020. And even if she had, Ratliff says her training with the Clerk of Court adequately prepared her to handle the situation. Her biggest takeaway from the election commissioner training: the Clerk of Court is passionate about helping as many people in Lafayette vote as possible.

Lafayette Parish Clerk of Court Louis Perret, a Republican, says if anyone has questions or concerns during the election, they can call his office directly. He makes sure phones are available to election commissioners at each polling station—and if there aren’t phones already there, he rents them. He’s still fielding calls from the last election.

“I still get calls weekly from people who make outlandish and crazy accusations that the election was rigged and about the legitimacy of the election,” says Perret.

He encourages anyone who doesn’t think Lafayette’s local elections are run fairly to take the election commissioner training course and spend 14 hours working at a precinct. 

“These are one of the unsung heroes working behind the scenes,” says Perret. “They are an integral part of our democracy.”

Perret feels lucky to have dedicated poll workers in Lafayette Parish, who come back year after year. But that doesn’t stop him from making the rounds on Passe Partout every election season.

“We need that younger generation to step up,” says Perret. “We’re not asking you to work for free. You get paid $200.”

The Lafayette Clerk of Court offers an in-person election commissioner training course each year. This year’s training has passed, but Parish residents can complete an online training course before Oct. 12 to be eligible to participate in this November’s elections.

Slusser says becoming a poll worker is one of the best ways average citizens can combat misinformation about the legitimacy of elections: “When they see it’s someone in their neighborhood or someone they see at the grocery store, that reinforces everyone’s faith in the voting process.”

Read more: How to become an election commissioner in Lafayette

Illustration of a megaphone

Get involved! Here’s how you can help.

Questions? Call the Lafayette Parish Election Department @ 337 291 6368

Got a small fix we should feature?

Use the form below to tell us about a person, project or idea tackling a big problem with a small fix. No problem is too big. No fix is too small.