In 1954, in the middle of Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s first term, Elizabeth Neal of Powell County started working as a precinct election officer in her Eastern Kentucky community.
She was 17 and her uncle, who was Republican Party chairman of Powell County, needed to recruit more precinct officers to make sure political contests ran smoothly at the polls on election days.
Neal, now 81, still does the work every time an election rolls around in Powell County, making her the longest-serving election official in Kentucky at 64 years.
On Wednesday, Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes held a ceremony in the state Capitol Rotunda to honor Neal and other poll workers serving 25 or more years. Grimes was joined by all but one former living secretaries of state — Ken Harper, John Y. Brown III, Trey Grayson and Elaine Walker. Bob Babbage was represented by his wife, Laura Babbage.
Grimes said the 15,000 or so Kentuckians who arise early on election days to assist at the polls from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. for a minimum stipend of $60 are the backbone of Kentucky elections and have never been officially honored.
The Capitol Rotunda was packed with the officers and their families and friends.
As Grimes called out the names of those officers who have served 25 or more years, the past secretaries of state placed special pins on them.
Neal, who worked professionally as a nurse, said she had a few problems as a precinct officer. “We had a woman who had a house in town but lived in the county. She wanted to vote in town. We had the darnedest time convincing her that she couldn’t vote in town.”
Neal noted that her daughter, Nina Everman, also of Powell County, has been a precinct worker for 47 years. “She’s going to take over my place.”
Kentucky has had a shortage of precinct workers for several years, said Grimes.
That is why, Grimes said, she will ask Kentucky’s 2019 General Assembly to pass a law to allow Kentuckians to pre-register to vote at age 16 and be a precinct worker at 16.