Poll workers in Wake County just got a raise. Given the risk, they’ll probably need it.

The Wake County Board of Commissioners unanimously voted to raise the minimum wage for elections staff to $11 an hour Monday, a nearly $3 pay bump. 

Nationally, elections boards worry the pandemic will lead to a shortage of poll workers, who tend to be not-so-young. In the 2018 general election, 58 percent of workers were over 60 years old, according to the U.S Election Assistance Commission. Of that, 27 percent were over age 71. 

That makes these workers, often exposed to the public for hours on end at the county’s 206 polling places, more vulnerable to life-threatening complications from COVID-19. 

Wake County Board of Elections member Gerry Cohen said there is no way to predict how many poll workers will cancel due to unforeseen complications, but right now he’s confident there will be enough poll workers in November. 

“If the election were today, and everyone who is signed up works, we are in good shape,” Cohen said. “What we don’t know is if people will cancel before or right up until the election.”

To ensure they don’t come up short, the Wake County Board of Elections is continuing to recruit workers and has an active waitlist. They hope the pay hike will encourage more people to sign up. 

Elections workers wear a plethora of hats: they direct voters, issue ballots, verify registration, organize voting equipment, and keep crowds under control. On top of this, they are legally required to take part in training classes before elections. 

“They are true public servants, and we appreciate the effort and energy they put into our elections this year and every year,” said Wake County Board of Elections director Gary Sims.

Raising the minimum wage was a unanimous decision by the board. 

“These workers are the backbone of our electoral process,” said Wake County Board of Commissioners member Jessica Homes. “I think they deserve to be paid accordingly.”

The pay bump only applies to the upcoming election. The Board will revisit the decision in budget deliberations next year. 

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