Previously a 'major concern,' city builds up poll worker roster

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Elliot Hughes
Wednesday, September 21, 2016

JANESVILLE--In June, Janesville Clerk-Treasurer David Godek said retaining poll workers had become a “major concern” for his office, especially with a presidential election on the horizon.

At the time, his poll worker roster had 243 names, 32 shy of his goal of 275. In fact, dating back to January 2013, the city had never had more than 259.

But three months later, after stepping up recruiting efforts and encouraging the city council to adopt new policies aimed at improving working conditions, Godek is no longer sweating it.

“Overall, I think we're in good shape,” he said. “A lot of it's always dependent on turnout, but I think that we've got enough poll workers. I think we have the right amount of polling places.”

Godek said this week he has a roster of 289 poll workers and expects to add perhaps 40 or more names in time for Election Day, Nov. 8.

That means roughly 90 people will have a shot at working an eight-hour shift, rather than a shift twice as long. And after his office recruited out of the UW-Rock County campus for the first time, Godek said his crew is now younger.

“It's sort of a mixed bag,” Godek said. “It's certainly not as many retirees as we've had in the past. The demographics probably are, overall, younger."

It all bodes well for November, for which Godek ordered 41,000 ballots and expects thousands more in absentee ballots.

Godek sounded a small alarm this summer about the lack of workers after 26 asked to be removed from the roster after the new year. Adding to the worry was the fact that workers had a rough time handling the 21,000 ballots cast (a turnout of 61 percent) in the spring 2016 election.

Workers complained to Godek and to the council at meetings that they struggled to find time for breaks during that election. They also said they were growing tired of the 16- to 18-hour work days.

The council responded by creating a 10th polling location, creating a new and more efficient process for absentee ballot counting and allowing eight-hour shifts for some workers. All of that was approved in time for a practice run of sorts during the quiet August primary.

Godek is expecting another 40 or 50 workers to sign up through Craig, Parker and Milton high schools.

But even if there are upwards of 300 people working for him that day, Godek still expects it to be busy, given that it is a November election with a presidential race on the bill.

“It's much, much busier,” he said. “To expect that there won't be lines, I don't think is realistic.”

During the summer, when the council was approving all those measures to accommodate poll workers, three council members also pushed an ordinance that would have given some workers a pay bump amounting to $1.11 an hour. But that proposal was postponed after a majority of the council felt uncomfortable squeezing $6,000 of new expenses into the budget mid-year.

President Sam Liebert and members Carol Tidwell and Kay Deupree said a pay increase would help recruit workers and would be the morally correct thing to do.

The compensation for some of Janesville's poll workers comes to below minimum wage. Workers and Godek himself said a pay increase wasn't necessary.

When informed of the recruiting strides the city had made over the last several months, Liebert said Tuesday his interest in increasing pay has not changed.

“I still think that we should be paying at least minimum wage even though I know by law we don't have to,” he said, referring to state law that exempts poll workers from minimum wage.

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