HOT SULPHUR SPRINGS — Grand County residents were able to vote with ease this election with mail ballots, but it still created plenty of work for county employees.
Election workers clocked hours well into the evening, missing some lunches and breaks.
Extended shifts aren’t uncommon in county clerk and recorder offices. Many retain their current employees to help with elections, meaning they have to do ballot work in addition to their regular jobs of registering vehicles, documenting marriage licenses and issuing birth certificates. But for some county employees, the additional work can take too much of a toll.
“I just couldn’t handle it,” said Irene Coleman, a former employee with the Grand County Clerk and Recorder office. “I’ve never in my life had an employer deprive me of my lunch. Or even a break.”
Coleman, who started at the county office in July, resigned in mid-October during the election season, but before Election Day, due to the long hours without breaks.
According to pay stubs Coleman provided to the Sky-Hi, since early September, she accumulated 43 hours of overtime in a six-week period, or an average of about seven hours a week. She said she found the overtime pay she and other employees received a waste of public money.
“Election and Motor Vehicle staff was making over $21 an hour performing duties that temporary hired staff could have done at a rate of $10 per hour,” she said. “As a taxpayer, I found it unconscionable to pay all this overtime.”
But County Clerk and Recorder Sara Rosene said it’s not that simple. She said she did hire some part-time temporary staff to help with elections, but she needs her full-time staff because of their training and credentials.
“The people working for me are experts at what they do, including elections,” she said. “And, frankly for elections, doing it right and making sure you have the right people doing it is more important to me.”
Ballot work must be done under camera surveillance, so the job must be done within her department space. And Rosene said it’s limited by both space and resources, like computers, so bringing in more staff is impractical. Then there’s training. Employees must receive instruction on how to do work accurately as well as the necessary security clearance to work a government job. All that work for temporary positions would be overwhelming, Rosene said.
According to elections offices in Summit and Jackson Counties, in the most recent election, employees didn’t clock nearly the hours of Grand County election workers. But Jackson County has fewer voters. It had 597 ballots cast compared to 5,234 in Grand County. Summit County has four full-time employees dedicated specifically to ballots during election season; they have towns send workers to help, and they recruit volunteers and paid part-time staff for Election Day. All that help helped them keep reasonable wartime hours.
In Routt County, officials at the Clerk and Recorder office reported a full-time staff often works long hours during election season, similar to Grand County workers. They noted it is critical to meet election deadlines, and that the office does whatever it takes, even if it means working evenings and through breaks.
In Grand County, Rosene said she’s clear about explaining the election season’s long hours and demands to potential employees during the hiring process. Elections are demanding, she said. Her office starts preparing ballots in early September, they do testing, prepare equipment, work with vendors to send absentee ballots, print and fold, and verify the right ballots are sent to the right voters. And once the ballots start coming in, they must verify signatures and screen ballots to ensure they’re accurate and filled out correctly before they even start counting.
“And we proof. We proof and proof and proof,” Rosene said. “So while we are all doing our regular jobs, we take time to do those things as well.”
Still, election workers said it wasn’t the long hours that ultimately caused them to quit. Instead it was treatment from their boss. Another former employee who requested and has been granted anonymity, started working at the office starting in July, but also quit during the election season. She and Coleman said Rosene sprung weekend and evening shifts on them with little notice or time to prepare. They also said Rosene was overly harsh when reprimanding them, adding to the stress of the work environment. Rosene declined to comment, saying it involved personnel matters.
This year, workers finished counting Grand County ballots at 2 a.m., the morning immediately following Election Day. Rosene confirmed she does ask employees to work through breaks at times, but said they are always compensated for their hours.
“The work is hugely important,” she said. “But it takes a lot of time. It takes more time than you’d ever expect.”
Leia Larsen can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19603.