Florida Debates Salary Changes for County Election Supervisors

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Election officials across the country are likely feeling overworked and underpaid right now with all the prep for this year’s votes, but at least one state is looking at addressing the “underpaid” part.

Florida’s legislature is currently whether or not to raise the salary of county election supervisors by revisiting the statutory formula that sets their salaries. Tallahassee radio station WFSU has more:

When officials created a formula in the 1960s for deciding election supervisors’ salaries, one lawmaker says the plan wasn’t fair and he says it is even less fair now.

David Ramba, a lobbyist for the Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections, says what may have once been a relatively easy job for elections supervisors has changed significantly over time.

“You know we used to just do an election day. And then we, more recently moved to absentee ballots where you didn’t actually have to be absent, just request it. So we call them absentee ballots, but they aren’t absent. It’ just more convenient for me to vote by mail. So you’ll see that on a lot of your things, you’ll see vote by mail. Then we got into early voting. Remember early voting was a couple days – three days. It got extended to two weeks, then back to one week, sometimes it’s back to two weeks,” Ramba says.

Ramba says with all that to do, elections supervisors will handle ballots 155 days out of the year. They’re also busy making sure ballots reflect new changes, such as the new districts lawmakers recently worked through, checking voter rolls to fight fraud, and training volunteers to use the equipment at the polls.

In fact, election supervisors are earning less than other county officers:

Ramba says it makes sense that elections supervisors should have the opportunity to earn the same pay as other elected officials, like the county clerk or property appraiser. He says it doesn’t make sense that the state is limiting elections supervisors.

“It has nothing to do with your budget. It’s like a local administrative thing where if I’m supervisor of Leon County I can pay my assistant $150,000 a year. I can pay my general council or chief of staff more. But my particular salary is set in state law,” Ramba says.

One legislator, citing current workloads as well as past inequities, has a bill to address the issue:

Rep. Frank Artiles (R-Miami) is pushing a measure that would tweak the calculation used to decide how much supervisors of elections should get paid and increases the base salary. Artiles says that would likely result in a raise for most supervisors of election. And he says that pay bump is long overdue.

“In the 60s most County officials were men, but most supervisors of elections were women. And the primary duty was to tally paper election ballots once every two years so their salaries were considerably lower than other male county officers,” Artiles [notes.]

And Artiles says today supervisors must follow a laundry list of rules and regulations as they help to ensure more than 11 million registered voters have access to the polls.

There is, however, pushback to the plan – though at least one skeptic is open to the change in a different form:

But many lawmakers … argued Florida’s Elections Supervisors aren’t exactly at the edge of poverty. The supervisor of elections in Leon County makes $114,000 a year, for example. But that is $19-thousand less than the county’s property appraiser earns. And Artiles says about half the state’s supervisors’ salaries don’t pass the $100,000 mark.

Still other lawmakers, like Tampa Republican Representative James Grant, say rather than force counties to increase salaries for the supervisors, he’d like to take the state out of the equation.

“Why wouldn’t we get the state out of the business of setting wages when they’re not state tax dollars?” Grant asks.

That last suggestion looks like it might become the basis for future legislation, though the current bill did (narrowly) make it out of subcommittee:

Grant says he’s interested in working on a bill along those lines [removing the state language fixing supervisor pay] for next year and several other panel members agreed. Lawmakers in the House Government Operations Subcommittee voted on the bill Tuesday and the measure failed. But later in that same committee, lawmakers moved to rehear the bill. This time, after taking an immediate vote, the measure passed 7-6.

While most supervisors aren’t likely focused on their paychecks right now given their current workload, this debate about whether and how state law should set local election officials’ salaries is important. Individual salaries aside, ensuring that election officials are sufficiently compensated is crucial both in retaining quality election administrators now as well as providing a viable career path for the next generation of election officials. I don’t expect the bill in its current form to make it through the Legislature, but the discussion is well worth having – and definitely worth watching for its impact on the Sunshine State and elsewhere.

Stay tuned …

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