This will be the third time Trudy Berger has run for Pike County District 4 election commissioner — and the first time she’s had a challenger.
Julie Etheridge is also seeking the post in the Nov. 3 general election.
Other election commissioners — Audrey Jenkins in District 1, Jennifer Gatlin-Barnes in 2, Danny Creel in 3 and Stacee Ott in 5 — are unopposed.
Berger, 72, of Summit, was initially appointed to finish the unfilled term of Melody White. She then ran for the next three four-year terms unopposed. She’s seeking a fourth full term of office.
Berger, who has deep family roots in Amite County, was born in Hammond, La., and received a bachelor of arts degree in journalism at Louisiana State University in 1970.
She moved to Houston, Texas, where she founded and ran a nonprofit minority purchasing council until 1985, also serving as regional director for the National Minority Purchasing Council.
“I had a strong background working with minority- and women-owned businesses,” she said.
After 15 years she started a consulting company, then retired to Summit, where she has family, in 2001.
When Pike County switched to voting machines, Circuit Clerk Roger Graves enlisted Berger’s help. She trained as a poll manager, and when White resigned, Graves recommended Berger be appointed.
“You either like it or you don’t like it, and I enjoyed it,” Berger said. “I was never opposed till this time. I don’t consider myself to be a politician. I enjoy service. I think the job is important, what we do. I don’t think it’s well understood.”
Commissioners are responsible for hiring and training poll workers as well as election security and integrity.
During her tenure, “we vastly upgraded our systems, fortifying them against any kind of intrusion,” Berger said.
”I think the county has benefited from my management background.”
She has studied the state election code, which covers more than 400 pages.
“I’ve gained the respect of my colleagues around the state,” she said, noting they rely on her for advice.
Berger has served as commission chair for the past 12 years.
“I feel like I’ve led the local commission successfully,” she said.
She’s kept up with national trends and developed a list of contacts to go to for advice.
The job is not always a popular one.
“In elections you’re going to have a winner and a loser. The winner’s going to think you’re great. The loser’s going to hate your guts,” Berger said.
She considers outside interference a constant threat to election security. Pike was one of the first counties to participate in the Homeland Security Administration elections integrity program, she said.
“We’ve signed up for every program available through HSA. We’re on top of it.”
Berger attends First Baptist Church, Summit, and has been on several mission trips. At the church she started Meals of Mercy, serving over 30,000 meals, more than half to non-church members. The program is in its 15th year.
“The idea of service is part of my DNA,” Berger said. “I’ve put my heart in everything I’ve ever done.”
n n n
Etheridge, 49, of Summit, was born in Pike County, graduated from Parklane Academy and received two associate degrees from Southwest Mississippi Community College. She has four children, attends The Well of McComb and is a member of the Summit Historical Society.
Etheridge has been a stay-at-home mom and did some after-school child care as well.
Several years ago a friend suggested she apply as a poll worker; then the election commissioner called and invited her to do so.
“From the first minute I just loved it,” Etheridge said. “I loved the people. I loved the process. I’m a researcher.”
She studied every new topic that came up and later became a poll manager, where she learned even more.
“Over the years I thought: What would be the next thing for me, the next step?” she said.
She consulted with others before deciding to run for commissioner, starting with her dad, Bobby Etheridge.
“I just saw it as a job that I wanted to do, not a political thing,” she said.
“It’s still outside my comfort zone, but I’m so excited about it,” Etheridge said. “I want to serve my county. This is just kind of the next step in something I really love.”
A commissioner’s job doesn’t end when the polls close. Commissioners must shut down the voting machines and precincts and go to the courthouse.
If elected, “I want to get more people registered to vote,” Etheridge said. “I will work with both parties, both chairmen of parties, to run the primaries, to be unbiased.”
She would like to see election commission training conducted in-state.
“We need to be putting our money back in our state economy,” she said.
Also, “I want to be available. I want everybody to be comfortable. I want everybody to get along, have good relationships.”
Her biggest concern about voter security is mail-in ballots.
“The mail issue is the thing that makes me the most nervous,” she said, noting that hacking is another potential threat.
“I want everything to be right, fair, ethical, and nothing but integrity used,” Etheridge said. “I think it’s time for freshness, for change, to get back on the right side, for things not to lean on one side or the other. I want to bring respect back to the process — not just the process but the people related to the process.”