Louise Burns, an 86-year-old poll worker who has shepherded Tillar voters through the election process since the late Jack Tyler was the Drew County Sheriff, reflected this week on the election process, politics in general, and life in a small town of less than 300 people, a store, and three well-attended churches.
From the perspective of a poll worker, the biggest changes Burns has noted in the election process is moving from paper ballots to machine and the move to consolidate polling sites.
She likes the voting machines but doesn’t like the idea of consolidating polling sites.
Burns, who has never missed voting in an election, said she had to drive to Selma in November to vote in the highway bond election. Some people, however, will not vote if they have to drive that far, she said.
“The voting is really going to be hurt if they are consolidated,” she said. “You’re not going to have half of the people to vote because they’re not going to drive that far. I think every little town ought to have their own polling place and their own poll workers.”
Burns, who recalls working the polls long before poll workers received compensation, said poll workers remain at the polling sites for at least 12 hours on election day.
But Burns’ day was even longer.
“I’d drive over to Monticello and pick up the ballot box and lock it up at city hall the night before the election and drive it back to Monticello after the polls close,” she said.
A Democrat whose favorite presidents were Franklin D. Roosevelt and Bill Clinton, Burns said she has always voted a straight Democratic ticket.
“I’ve been a Democrat all my life, I don’t remember ever voting for a Republican,” she said, but later recalled voting for a Republican in the last presidential election.
Though she has never run for public office herself, she did consider running for mayor of Tillar years ago.
“But we had such a good mayor I was afraid to come out, I didn’t want to get beat,” she said, laughing.
Had she thrown her proverbial hat in the ring, she said she would have run on an infrastructure improvement platform.
“Our town needed so many things,” she said. “We needed a better sewer system. Our sewage was just running out everywhere. And, we needed better television reception. There were several things I thought could be improved a whole lot.”
The late Robert Landfair, the former mayor, corrected those things, she said.
“Now we have a wonderful sewer system and we get good television reception from Cablevision out of Monticello,” Burns said.
“Landfair was a good mayor and now we have a wonderful mayor, Monica Freeland,” Burns said. “She is doing a marvelous job. I sure wouldn’t want to run against her.”
Burns, who grew up on a dairy farm where she recalls milking cows and delivering 35-cent quart bottles of milk door to door, moved from McGehee to Tillar when she was in the seventh grade.
“I played basketball,” she said. “I loved basketball. In fact, I loved it so much I married the referee.”
Burns late husband, Lee Burns, eventually got a job with the U.S. Postal Service and was the Tillar Postmaster until May 22, 1958 when he and the couple’s 13-year-old son, Billy, were killed in a private plane crash between Rohwer and McGehee.
Burns lost another son, John, who died of Alzheimer’s Disease last year. Her only surviving child, Sharon, is the mother of Monticello Police Chief Eddy Deaton.
After her husband’s death in 1958, Burns became the Tillar postmaster.
“The good people of Tillar and the Postal Service let me replace him as postmaster,” she said. “I was postmaster for 38 years and I loved every day of it.”
Tillar voters who have become accustomed to seeing Burns at their polling site during every election likely will not see her there this year because of her failing eyesight.
“I really am going to miss it because I got to see and visit with people I haven’t seen since the last election,” she said.