Woman celebrates 45+ years working elections
SULPHUR, La. — More than 45 years ago, Anita Statum essentially stumbled into working as an election commissioner, filling in for a woman who had cancer. Unlike today’s rules, the job was simply given to her.
“I don’t remember who told me about it,” said the longtime Sulphur resident. “I went to her house and got the commission. I’ve been going at it ever since.”
Statum, now 67, works elections even when she isn’t scheduled to do so, filling commissioner shortages at various voting precincts. She said the work fills her need to stay busy, lets her catch up with old friends and revel in the excitement of election day.
“I’ve said 1,000 times I’m going to quit,” Statum said. “I guess I’ll just keep going until I’m 80 or 90. It gets me out of the house.”
Over the years, nearly every member of Statum’s family has worked an election at some point, she said. Her daughter-in-law, Becky Chaisson, still works elections today, she said.
Along with making sure the election process runs smoothly, election commissioners are responsible for making sure voters are comfortable when they go to the polls, Statum said.
“Sometimes you have to joke and cut up with them,” she said.
Statum has worked wherever she was needed, including various precincts throughout Sulphur, along with Westlake and DeQuincy. She works at the Houston River Fire Department on West Houston River Road, where two precincts are located. A new fire station is being built because the old one has flooded several times.
One election that stands out is the 1991 gubernatorial race between Edwin Edwards and former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke. She said it was unlike the typically calm elections because plenty of national media were outside the precinct, waiting to ask voters which candidate they chose.
“That was a hullabaloo,” she said. “There was some tension there, and we didn’t want that. I had never seen as many people doing exit polls.”
Statum was also part of two busloads of election commissioners that Calcasieu Parish Clerk of Court Lynn Jones sent to New Orleans to help with the 2006 mayoral race between incumbent Ray Nagin and Mitch Landrieu. The “Crescent City” was still reeling from the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. She recalls many commissioners from New Orleans who had never before worked an election, yet volunteered to help.
When Statum started working as an election commissioner, she didn’t have to take a test. Commissioners must take a test every four years and answer questions about voting machines and procedures, duties for the day, election laws and how to solve problems on election day.
Statum also became a commissioner in charge by chance, with a precinct not having anyone to work a particular election.
“I got a call and was asked if I would do it, and I just stayed with it,” she said.
Statum has been a commissioner in charge for roughly two decades, only taking one year off during that time. It requires an annual test and a full year of service.
“You’re just kind of making sure everything is done correctly because it’s on your nose if it’s not,” she said.
When Statum began working as an election commissioner, the pay was $25 per day. Now, it’s $200 per day. The commissioner in charge earns $250 a day.
“I look at it as some more money my grandbabies are going to spend,” she said.
Years earlier, election commissioners could leave voting precincts for lunch. Now, different commissioners will cook a meal and bring it to the precinct.
“We eat well and enjoy each other’s company when we have a chance,” she said.
Election laws have also changed over the years. She recalled candidates bringing donuts to the precincts.
“You don’t do that anymore,” Statum said. “I understand it. You want everything legal and on the up and up.”
Statum said she tries to encourage young people to work an election in the hopes that they can eventually replace older commissioners.
“It’s some money in your pocket, and if you’ve got expenses to pay, it helps,” she said. “It’s not like you have to work outside with a shovel.”
High school seniors who are 17 years old can work elections. Statum’s daughter, Wendy Brown, did so when she was a senior in 2003, the first in Calcasieu Parish to do so.
Statum said she also tries to encourage retirees to serve as election commissioners.
Statum said Calcasieu Clerk of Court Lynn Jones works hard to encourage residents to vote and to get commissioners to work elections. She worked 15 years in mortgage certificates for the clerk’s office and retired last April.
“It’s in his heart; it’s his passion,” she said. “There’s not enough nice things I can say about him.”
Statum said she openly challenges those who post inaccurate information on social media of alleged election fraud in Calcasieu Parish.
“I tell them to come sit in with us in an election, and you’re going to see exactly how wrong you are,” she said. “The people who are putting out the wrong information on social media are why some people don’t want to vote. I can promise you that Calcasieu Parish is going to be as legal as you can find. There are so many checks and balances in place.”