In Mississippi, an election commissioner represents:
A city, county, or the state. An election commissioner is the chief executive officer of general and special elections in their respective counties or cities. The Mississippi Secretary of State is the CEO of all statewide elections. Municipal commissioners are appointed and unpaid; county commissioners are elected and paid.
Length of term: 4 years.
Responsibilities: Voter roll maintenance; hiring and training poll workers; conducting general and special elections; revise registration books and pollbooks
Real-world example of why you should care: Did you move? Do you need to know where you need to vote? Your municipal or county election commissioner can help.
Zakiya Summers has spent many years in service to the City of Jackson and the state of Mississippi. The businesswoman, writer and journalist, and activist works full-time at the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi as Director of Communications and Advocacy, but also serves as Hinds County Election Commissioner for District 3. “Most of the time you don’t hear about an election commissioner unless something bad happens with elections,” she said. “But election commissioners are very important because we’re the ones that ensure that the votes count. We’re the ones that ensure that elections are transparent and efficient. We are at the top of the list when it comes to election integrity.”
What are your day-to-day tasks like?
Voter roll maintenance is one of the most important roles of an election commissioner. When we’re not in election season, we’re maintaining voter rolls. We’re going through… there’s one commissioner per district. In Hinds County we have five districts, and we have a commissioner that represents each district. Inside of those districts, they’re maintaining those voter rolls with SEMS (statewide election management system).
I try to work 3 to 5 days a week. We get paid per diem. In order for us to get paid per diem, we have to work five hours over the course of two days. It can be five hours a day, or five hours over 2 days. On a weekly basis, I’m probably working anywhere between 15 to 25 hours per week. It’s a part-time position. We don’t have traditional office hours, although we do have an office manager who’s there 8-5, and we have at least two commissioners who are retired and therefore can work during the regular workday. Because I have a full-time job, i’m typically working during the evening time or on the weekend.
What made you decide to run?
I had been introduced to the importance of voting and voting rights work in a former job. Really didn’t know anything about an election commissioner or what it does, and by happenstance my supervisor appointed me to this position. After the former decided to run, he vacated the office, and therefore it became available, and she appointed me to it. I was lead into this position based on the work i’d been doing around voting rights and voter registration. Once I was appointed to the position, and I only served for a short period, I began to understand how important an election commissioner is.
In addition to that, I wanted to be of service. I wanted to continue my public service to the community, and decided after I was appointed for the position that I wanted to continue to serve my district in this capacity. I wasn’t successful during that (2015 special) election, unfortunately, and I think it was due to my pregnancy and not really being able to campaign to the extent that I needed to campaign. But, I didn’t give up, because I felt like God had put me in this position for a reason, and I think that our role on this earth is to serve others, and so i wanted to give it a try one more time, and just see if the position was meant for me. This position is not about us, it’s about the voters. It’s about how we can be a resource to the voters and ensure that voters have access to the ballot box, which, in this day and time is critical to what’s happening in our local communities, national landscape, and all the systems that impact our daily lives.
Why is it important for women, especially black women, to run for office?
Black women have so much power. We have a unique perspective because a lot of times, we are the breadwinners in our community. We’re the breadwinners in our homes. We’re raising children, we’re working, we’re involved in our community. And black women are superstars. We do it all. And we’ve done it all for so long. We’ve always taken care of everybody else for so many years, and so we have an internal and external perspective. We have the tenacity and the resiliency in order to serve in an elected position that’s going to impact everybody and not just a certain segment of people, and I think that’s important. What we’re seeing now are policymakers, and as a result, policies that are having an adverse impact on certain groups of people and at the same time having a positive impact on other groups of people. We’re not seeing inclusivity when it comes to policies that have a positive impact on everyone. I think that’s where black women really fill in that niche because we do it all. And we understand that it’s not just about us, it’s about our children, communities, ancestors, legacies, all that we’ve gone through as women and as black women in this country. I think it is integral that black women continue to run. We also have a responsibility to young black women and girls who are coming behind us to show them that they don’t have to internalize the notion that they’re not worthy and that they’re not victorious, that they can win if they try. I think the road ahead for us is very bright.
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