In order to recruit more election workers, Alaska increases pay by $3 per hour

The polls will open Oct. 1 for Unalaska's municipal election. (Photo by Laura Kraegel/KUCB)
A polling place in Unalaska. (Photo by Laura Kraegel/KUCB)

Alaska election workers will get an emergency pay increase this year for working during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Division of Elections is raising pay for poll workers from $12 to $15 per hour. The lead worker in each precinct will receive an additional $0.50 per hour.

In March, the division had already raised the pay for election workers because it had fallen below minimum wage. There hadn’t been an increase in over 10 years.

But still, COVID-19 presented a challenge for recruiting workers.

“COVID has made life a lot more difficult for everyone and that held true just for elections as well,” said Division of Elections Director Gail Fenumiai.

The state has been able to recruit the minimum number of three workers for precincts in Southcentral, Southeast and Interior Alaska. But there are still some shortages in northern, western and Southwest Alaska. And the division is always looking for more.

“Every year, even non-COVID years, there are workers who for whatever reasons are not able to work at the polls on Election Day,” Fenumiai said. “And so, we like to have a list of workers if possible to be able to call and say, ‘Hey, you know, we need a worker at this precinct.’”

While the March pay increase is permanent, the new emergency pay increase will only apply this year. It will be paid for with federal funding for election assistance related to COVID-19.

The division will provide personal protective equipment for both poll workers and voters on Election Day and at early election stations around the state.

Fenumiai said a new program to have organizations adopt precincts has also helped with recruiting. There are 19 organizations that will receive up to $1,800 for supplying poll workers. They range from Juneau Special Olympics to the University of Alaska Fairbanks hockey alumni to the Palmer and Anchorage Rotary and Kiwanis clubs.

Fenumiai said the idea had been considered for several years and it’s intended to become a permanent program.

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