City council approves wage increase for election workers

BURTON — The city will pay its election workers $25 an hour for the Nov. 3 election, a boost officials hope will help the clerk recruit the number of people she needs to make sure the ballots get counted.

The council voted unanimously Tuesday to approve the pay hike and the corresponding transfer of $20,000 from the city’s general fund to the election budget. Councilwoman Tina Conley was absent.

Increased pay for election workers came up at the council’s regular meeting where it was discussing the transfer of state reimbursement money from last year from the general fund to the clerk’s budget.

Because the $20,000 reimbursement came months after the election cycle had ended, it was deposited directly into the city’s general fund, so transferring it to the clerk’s budget was a routine matter – but one that was considered necessary due to election costs.

“The reason we’re asking for the transfer is a couple different reasons. The biggest reason is because the cost of the election and the procedures that have to take place now are way more complex due to the fact the new protocols (the number of people voting by absentee) has increased tremendously due to the COVID,” said Mayor Duane Haskins. “The clerk needed a few additional tabulators, but she said she can make do with one. The tabulators are roughly $20,000, maybe a little bit more. The state will reimburse us for half the cost of the tabulator.”

He said the tabulator has to be used because of the uptick in the volume of absentee ballots. There has also been an increase in the workload at the clerk’s office due to the decision at the Genesee County clerk’s to no longer be responsible for folding the ballots.

“Now we have to fold them and send them out because the county is no longer going to do that because they found this loophole (in the rules),” said Haskins.

He explained the county started by saying they were only going to issue 30 percent of ballots and municipalities are expecting at least 60 percent of this election to be absentee ballots. Haskins said nearly every clerk’s office in the county has been in contact with the county clerk’s office saying there’s no way they can run an election with 30 percent absentee ballots.

This led to the county reviewing the rules and finding out they’re not responsible for sending and folding the ballots. So, the individual municipalities are responsible for the cost of folding the ballots.

“As this election keeps going, there’s probably going to be more cost related to it,” said Haskins. “The clerk’s office and the employees she has in there have been doing an excellent job. Probably one of the best with the training of our election workers in maintaining our elections and getting all of our stuff to the clerk’s office on time.”

When council members asked if the clerk had an adequate staff for the November election, she said they were still working on recruiting more workers.

Clerk Racheal Boggs said she needs 112 workers for the November election, with 60 workers already confirmed and another 15 scheduled for training.

“I’m recruiting every single day,” she said.

Councilman Vaughn Smith made the motion to raise the pay rate for election workers to $25 per hour, which works out to about $375 per person for a 15-hour day.

“For every election going forward, it’s going to be in this for a while,” said Smith.

While some on the council wanted to make the new rate permanent, the council decided to make it a one-time increase and re-evaluate on the next election cycle.

“I think what you’re proposing is more than adequate,” said Boggs. “I think it will help me tremendously in recruiting people.”

The increase required the transfer of an additional $20,000 from the general fund to elections to cover the $42,000 estimated cost for paying election workers Nov. 3.

To be an election worker, you must be 18-year-old and be registered to vote in the State of Michigan. Boggs said a small number of 16-year-olds are eligible to be election workers, but it is mostly 18 and older.

Haskins said if the city is going to pay election workers $25 an hour, he suggested the council keep it there as long as the city can afford it.

“If you raise them to $25, then next election take them back down to $10-15, it could harm us,” he said. “Unless we can’t afford it and we’re not getting reimbursements from the state, or whatever, I suggest you leave it there until it causes a problem.”

Vice President Greg Fenner said his only concern was raising the rate for election workers when the city’s Department of Public Works employees are getting paid far less.

“What’s it going to look like to our workers?” said Fenner.

“I’m not worried about what it looks like to our workers, this is an incentive to make sure we have free and fair elections,” said Heffner. “There’s nothing more important in this whole country than having a free and fair election.”