Atlanta Mayor Urges City Employees to Work the Polls on Election Day

Atlanta Mayor Urges City Employees to Work the Polls on Election Day
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms. (@dstinc1913 / Twitter)

On Thursday morning, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms signed an executive order authorizing leave for city employees to serve as poll workers for the November election and runoff election. The executive order comes amidst growing concern regarding the safety of in-person voting, especially as people over age 60—who are at highest risk for complications from COVID-19—have historically constituted the majority of election workers. 

The policy allows employees up to eight hours of leave to work the polls, both in November and during the Jan. 5 general election run-off. It also doubles time off for city employees to cast their ballots.

“This order provides an opportunity for city employees to participate in helping to protect the constitutional right to vote during one of the most historic elections of our lifetime,” Bottoms said.

Bottoms’s concern for voting access comes as no surprise. She is a founding member of When We All Vote’s Civic Cities Initiative, which “encourages and supports mayors to take a leading role in closing the voting race and age gap and fundamentally shift the culture around voting in every election.” It also provides a network for sharing citizen-engagement strategies.

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Having sufficient staff helps ensure that the government doesn’t need to close down polling locations, and improves COVID safety precautions. When worker shortages lead to closures, those that do reach the polls face longer lines and bigger crowds.

“While the city of Atlanta is not responsible for administering elections, we are committed to doing all we can to diminish the challenges voters experienced during the general primary in June,” said Mayor Bottoms—alluding to problems reported during Georgia’s June 9 primary elections, such as long lines and wait times (disproportionately affecting Black voters in Atlanta), voting equipment failures, and missing or poorly trained poll workers.

Of course, in many states, early in-person voting is an option. If an employee prefers, they are able to apply the measure on any single day during Atlanta’s early voting periods—which is Oct. 12 through Oct. 30 for the General Election—instead of on Election Day.

Bottoms’s executive order also expands paid time-off to vote—even for employees who don’t volunteer as poll workers. City employees have four paid hours to vote this year, compared to the two hours granted in the past. Employers still reserve the right to specify which hours are allotted for voting, but the shift from two hours to four will help alleviate any stress surrounding long wait times.

Atlanta joins several companies that have encouraged employees to become poll workers. Old Navy and Tory Burch, among others, are paying full wages to those who take time off to volunteer, supplementing the compensation poll workers are already receive from their local jurisdiction.

Become a Poll Worker

Most states allow all registered voters to work at the polls, but some even allow volunteers as young as 16. For specific information on how to become a poll worker in your state, head here.

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Sophie Dorf-Kamienny is a junior at Tufts University studying sociology and community health. She is a Ms. contributing writer, and was formerly an editorial fellow, research fellow and assistant editor of social media. You can find her on Twitter at @sophie_dk_.