Janesville City Council to consider increasing poll worker pay

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Jake Magee
Friday, December 9, 2016

JANESVILLE—The city council will revisit during its Monday meeting the idea of paying poll workers more, but city officials still argue that increasing the pay is unnecessary and would only crimp the city budget.

Council President Sam Liebert and members Kay Deupree and Carol Tidwell this summer sponsored an ordinance to increase poll workers' pay to $120 for working 16 hours Election Day. Janesville poll workers currently are paid $100 for working 16 hours and $50 for working eight.

The three sponsored the ordinance as a way to entice people to become poll workers after a lack of workers for the spring election, Deupree said.

Furthermore, the members wanted to make the pay hourly rather than a lump sum because some poll workers might work an hour more or less than others, depending how smoothly each polling place operated, she said.

The council voted 4-3 in July to postpone the discussion until December after realizing the city was facing a nearly $1 million shortfall. With the 2017 budget finalized and the shortfall addressed, the council is picking up where it left off.

According to a memo from City Clerk/Treasurer Dave Godek, Janesville pays its poll workers less than peer cities. The average pay is almost $117. Beloit pays its poll workers $110 for a day.

Despite its pay being below average, the city isn't hearing pay complaints from poll workers, and the number of workers signed up is stronger than ever, Godek said.

As of Thursday, 318 residents were signed up to be poll workers, which is a record and far above the goal of 275, Godek said.

Deupree commended Godek for recruiting so many workers and for centralizing absentee ballot counting, which has helped eliminate one of the main reasons workers at certain polling places had to put in more hours, she said.

The increase in numbers is a result of more aggressive recruiting. The city has been telling poll workers to recruit their friends and families, going in front of service groups requesting help and attending UW-Rock County orientation day to recruit students, Godek said.

For the November election, 220 of the 319 signed up at the time worked. The city tries to get at least 200 poll workers on presidential election days, Godek said.

Godek heard from chief election inspectors in November that they had more workers than necessary, “which is a good problem to have,” Godek said.

People work the polls because they want to give back and help residents do their civic duty, not to make a quick buck, Godek said.

“Generally, the feedback I get is it's not about the money; it's about providing a service to the community,” he said.

“Basically, we don't see that money is a motivating factor to get people to come work at the polling place. It's that sense of civic duty, and we don't feel that paying a higher rate is going to attract necessarily more poll workers,” Godek said.

Paying poll workers more would be nice and would let the community know the city values poll workers, Godek wrote in the memo.

Deupree agreed. Despite the centralized absentee ballot counting and high recruitment, paying workers a higher rate would show them the city's appreciation, Deupree said.

The county paid residents who helped with the presidential election recount this past week $9.76 an hour, Rock County Clerk Lisa Tollefson said.

The rate is the county's typical wage for limited-term employees. Politician Jill Stein paid for the recount, including Rock County poll workers' wages, Tollefson said.

If an election is close enough, the county is required to pay for a recount. In those cases, the county solicits volunteers who are not paid for recounting, she said.

“I still think it (raising pay) makes sense to do just from respecting and appreciating citizens who are interested in supporting the democratic process,” Deupree said.

But the city will be facing tighter and more challenging budgets in the coming years, and paying poll workers more would be an additional and unnecessary expense, Godek said.

Deupree said paying off the Central Fire Station with general fund money this year put the 2017 budget in good enough shape that paying poll workers more is worth the extra expense.

The city had enough poll workers this past election to grant each of the 45 requests it received to work half days. Had the city received an inordinate number of half-day requests, it would have asked volunteers to work full days and then granted half days based on who had asked first, Godek said.

Those of the 319 who didn't respond to requests to work the polls in November could have been on vacation or dealing with family or medical issues, Godek said.

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