Should poll workers get hazard pay? Lawmakers in DeKalb think so

Loretta McCullough, a poll worker, wipes down a voting machine in Gwinnett County  on Tuesday. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
Loretta McCullough, a poll worker, wipes down a voting machine in Gwinnett County on Tuesday. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

DeKalb CEO Michael Thurmond and state senators who represent the county are pushing for 1,000 poll workers to receive extra “frontline” pay for working during the coronavirus pandemic.

At the urging of the DeKalb Senate delegation, Thurmond plans to ask the county commission for the extra funding at its June 16 meeting, the county said in a statement Thursday.

Several poll workers opted to sit the June primary out, or just did not show up on Election Day, adding to the myriad issues DeKalb experienced on Tuesday. Voters at several precincts experienced long lines and technical issues; officials have vowed to investigate what went wrong.

The senators hope the extra pay might encourage more people to be poll workers, while rewarding them for working during a pandemic. Sen. Emanuel Jones, D-Decatur, suggested the hazard pay should apply to poll workers for the June, August and November elections.

“You know we celebrate policemen and fire, but if you were a poll worker (on Tuesday) you were a frontline worker,” Thurmond said Wednesday in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “You put your health and potentially the health of your family at risk to ensure a fair and accurate election. And if we don't acknowledge that, if we don't thank those people, then it's a disgrace.”

DeKalb County residents wait outside Ray of Hope Christian Church to cast their votes after 7 p.m. on Tuesday night. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
DeKalb County residents wait outside Ray of Hope Christian Church to cast their votes after 7 p.m. on Tuesday night. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Thurmond will request that the county use federal aid from the CARES Act to supplement the extra pay. If approved, DeKalb would be the first county in Georgia to offer frontline pay to poll workers, local officials said.

The county’s statement did not say exactly how much the extra pay would be. Previously, the average DeKalb County poll worker has made about $230 for manning a precinct on Election Day.

In March, Thurmond vowed that the county's "frontline workers" would get paid time-and-a-half during the pandemic, plus accrue four extra hours of comp time for every eight hours worked. That included employees in public safety agencies as well as workers from departments like sanitation, watershed, the medical examiner's office, road and drainage, IT, parks and more. Thurmond clashed with some county commissioners over that plan, which could cost the county millions.

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