Clerks see overwhelming turn out for election workers

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Brandy Palmer knows just how ugly this election has become.

She wants to try to take it in another direction.

“It’s contentious,” Palmer said. “There’s a lot of ugliness on both sides, and I want to find a way to get involved in a positive way.”

So, she answered the call to become a Kent County election worker.

And she’s not alone.

Despite all the worries and the controversies over this year’s election, a funny thing happened on the way to Nov. 3.

An overwhelming number of people have volunteered to make sure things work out right.

“We had a surprising number of individuals just come out of nowhere, showing a general interest in helping us out,” said Kent County Elections Director Gerrid Uzarski.

COVID-19 has brought concerns over older election workers’ health and safety, who traditionally staff polling precincts.

That, along with the high number of mail-in ballots that will need to be counted election day and an expected high voter turnout for in-person voting has caused a need for additional workers at the polls.

But area clerks say staffing will not be a problem on Nov. 3.

Both Kent and Ottawa County election officials say they’ve filled their volunteer rosters.

In Grand Rapids, they’ve created a waiting list for people wanting to participate.

“So, we’ll have a standby list. If someone can’t work, we’ll go to that standby list. That’s been a good problem to have,” said Grand Rapids City Clerk Joel Hondorp.

While they volunteer for the job, many are surprised to find out they do get paid.

Grand Rapids election workers will get a little extra in their checks.

The city received a $280,000 grant from the Center for Tech and Civic Life, a group formed in 2012 to promote civic engagement.

The money is being used to pay for additional equipment and staff.

It will also provide and additional $100 in hazard pay for each of the city’s 500 to 600 election workers.

“You’re putting ourselves at a potential risk,” Hondorp said. “We pay each election worker about $165 a day, a chairperson gets $200. So, they’re all going to get an extra $100 above and beyond what they normally get.”

Election workers do everything from checking names against the voter registration list to counting the record number of absentee ballots expected.

But just as important, they have a better understanding of the process.

“They’re usually comfortable and very impressed with what it looks like behind the scenes,” Uzarski said. “And it’s great to have them in the class, and I sort of look at them as ambassadors. They go out to the community and vouch on our behalf.”

Palmer, who expects to be assigned to a Cannon Township polling place, agrees.

But just as important to her, she can share her experience with her 10 and 13-year-old children, who often hear a different view of the election process at school.

“They’re hearing a lot about politics and the system… And really what they’re coming home with is I think, a lot of the negative. That things are broken. Things aren’t functioning as they should,” Palmer said. “And I’d love to be able to educate them more about how that system does work.”