How Lake Charles will handle an election during COVID-19 and after two hurricanes

An interview with Lynn Jones, Clerk of Court in Calcasieu Parish

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The following is a transcript of a portion of this podcast episode. Julie O’Donoghue interviews Lynn Jones, the clerk of court in Calcasieu Parish. Jones is the local official in charge of elections. 

To listen to the full episode, go here

Julie: So Laura was a powerful Category 4 hurricane. It caused problems for most homes and businesses in Calcasieu. And Jones says all of the parishes’ polling places were damaged in the storm. That meant Jones had to move most of them to new locations.

Jones: Basically we put together a plan for mega-polling sites. And we moved 70 percent of our polling sites in Calcasieu Parish. We have 123 polling sites and I think it was around 80-something — 85 — that were moved into some type of consolidated site.

So our biggest center, we’re predicting anywhere from 18,000 to 19,000 voters in one day at that center. There’s 30 precincts in that center.

Julie: Right. So instead of going into a neighborhood polling place at a school or a fire station, most election day voters in Calcasieu will be going to an arena with thousands of other people.

The specific polling site Jones was just describing is the Lake Charles Civic Center. And it will be one of the biggest voting locations Louisiana has ever seen.  

But there will be a couple of other mega-polling sites in Calcasieu as well. The Burton Coliseum Complex and the West-Cal Event Center are both going to host several precincts. Those sites are expected to have 7,000 and 9,000 voters each. 

Jones has been the Clerk of Court in Calcasieu for 16 years. And he says the community has been through hurricanes before, but it’s never had to stage a presidential election right after a storm. 

Jones: We did have an election after Hurricane Rita, but that election was in the spring. And also it was a very low turnout election. Actually about 13 percent of voters turned out in that election.

Julie: In this election, Jones is expecting the turnout to be more like 70 percent. And he’s worried about lines at the civic center. COVID-19 restrictions mean Jones won’t be able to have as many voters in the building at one time as he would like.

Jones: You know my concern is I don’t want a situation, you know, like you saw in Georgia and around the country that they were waiting in line for eight hours. My goal is to keep it around an hour/hour and a half which is even normal in some of our normal presidential elections at some of our locations. Some of our larger locations take an hour/hour and half on election day for a presidential election.

Julie: Jones says he had to resort to these mega-precincts, in part because the power grid in Calcasieu is fragile. Even where polling places have been repaired, Entergy couldn’t guarantee the power wouldn’t go out. They haven’t been able to stabilize the network enough.

So Jones had to move the polling places to locations where he knew an alternative source of power would be available. 

Jones: All our mega-precincts — we have back up power stationed to be ready if something happens. Now, we’ve not had that many problems on the electrical aspect. It’s kind of on and off. But we can’t afford on election day for something to happen.

IN THIS EPISODE

Lynn Jones

Calcasieu Parish Clerk of Court

Jones has served as Calcasieu Parish's Clerk of Court for 16 years. He is a graduate of McNeese State University and DeQuincy High School.