Currently, the city of Atlanta boasts 8,462 employees, and citizens who show up to vote in person in Atlanta come Election Day just might see some of them working the polls in the upcoming election. Earlier this month, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms signed an executive order authorizing leave for city employees to serve as poll workers for the November election. The announcement comes just a few months after Georgia voters experienced extremely long lines in some areas during the state’s primary election prompting concerns about voter suppression.
“The Georgia Primary Election in June was chaotic, with people standing in lines for hours and countless voters like myself never receiving their absentee ballot. It was important to remove any hurdles our employees might face while helping their communities exercise their right to vote,” explained Bottoms. While Atlanta is not responsible for administering elections, Bottoms says she is committed to doing all she can to make voting as accessible as possible where she’s able.
The order states that employees will be entitled to a leave of absence up to eight hours to volunteer as poll workers during early voting, on Election Day, and during the federal election run-off in January. In addition, it provides up to four hours of leave for employees to vote on election days—double the previously allotted amount. A wide range of companies throughout the country, such as Coca-Cola, Verizon, Microsoft, Starbucks and Old Navy are similarly offering paid time off to vote and work election polls. Cities such as Austin, TX, St. Petersburg, FL and Columbia, MO have enacted similar policies to offer paid leave for city employees to vote and work election polls. In Detroit, all city workers will be diverted to the city clerk’s office for two days to help process hundreds of thousands of expected mail-in ballots for the November election.
“We were inspired by the work of First Lady Michelle Obama and When We All Vote to think of ways to address the challenges that we witnessed at polling places across the country over the last several months,” says Bottoms. Just a few hours after the order was announced, the former First Lady weighed in with her support on Twitter. “This is such a critical step for making sure elections in Atlanta can run safely and securely. Mayors and local leaders have the power to step up and do this across the country, and I hope they do,” read the Tweet from Obama.
According to data from the Election Assistance Commission, there were 917,694 poll workers during the 2016 elections throughout the country. Almost 65% of jurisdictions reported that it was “very difficult” or “somewhat difficult” to obtain a sufficient number of poll workers, and more than half of those workers were 61 and over. Armed with that knowledge, and reports that many areas throughout the U.S. were seeing shortages of poll workers heading into the fall, Bottoms felt it was especially critical to shore up Atlanta polling locations as best as possible ahead of the general election. “Many poll workers are seniors, placing them amongst the most vulnerable in our communities. In the spirit of Atlanta’s legacy as a leader and protector of civil rights, I knew it was important to do all we could to make it possible for our employees to assist with what many consider to be the most consequential elections of our lifetime,” Bottoms continued. She says that so far, response from city employees has been positive and expects to see many take advantage of the paid time off to assist in polling locations in their communities.
According to Fox 5 Atlanta, Fulton County, which includes greater Atlanta, will need 2,900 poll workers for the November election.