[Image via @DenverElections]
In this week’s electionlineWeekly, Mindy Moretti has the fascinating (and heartwarming!) story of a partnership between Denver’s election office and a city program aimed at providing employment for homeless city residents:
In 2017 Denver Elections Division employed a special group of election judges to work in the ballot processing room.
They didn’t look any different from any of the other temporary election workers, they ate in the break room with everyone else and had the same temporary employee badges. They processed ballots for six hours a day just like everyone else.
What made these nine election judges special though is that they were employed through Denver Day Works, a program designed to provide a low- to no-barrier work experience for people throughout the city who are experiencing homelessness.
“The first day was an electrifying day,” said Elizabeth Littlepage, election judge coordinator [pictured above]. “I felt like we were really making an impact in these workers’ lives, giving them the opportunity to get back into the workforce.”
Like many of the Denver Day Works’ partnerships, the connection with Elections came as a suggestion from someone only indirectly involved, explained Marcus Ritosa, lean facilitator with Denver Day Works. From a program leadership perspective, Ritosa saw this as a good project in part because of the nature of the work. It was something indoors, low-impact, and more details-oriented.
For Littlepage, the call from Denver Day Works was helping her deal with a struggle every election official in the country faces — finding enough election judges/poll workers.
Littlepage said that after several meetings with the Denver Day Works team to discuss the possibility of the program, the Elections Division then had to meet with attorneys to determine if it would be possible because all election judges are required to go through background checks. This was a new step for Denver Day Works.
“One of the new processes we tested during this election cycle was in effectively and efficiently conducting limited background checks in accordance with Elections Division rules,” Ritosa said. “While there may have been some potential workers excluded for these reasons, we were able to perform the necessary checks without disruption or burden on our process.”
Other than the background check, the only other requirement the workers needed to fulfill is that they had to be eligible to register to vote in Denver.
The workers assisted in the ballot processing room for four separate days, six hours each day, and there were five workers per day, but not always the same workers each day. In total nine total different workers helped over the four day schedule the Elections Division had set up.
Because the workers were working in the ballot processing room, there was very little training involved and it didn’t matter if a different employee showed up the next day.
According to Littlepage, the workers were excited, energetic, and very approachable. They were all very different, with varying backgrounds and experiences. One of the workers had been an election judge in Chicago in the 1980s.
The Department of Human services recently released a video with clients telling their own stories about working with Denver Day Works. One of those workers is Regina, who worked at the Elections Division. In the video, Regina talks about how important it was to her to be trusted in such an important city job.
“You can tell from the video her pride in working for the Elections division as she shows her badge,” Ritosa said. “We also know that many of our participants at that site chose to return for the second week in the short project.”
The workers employed through Denver Day Works are paid a set daily rate through the Department of Human Services. Some get cash, some get gift cards and some get checks, depending on each which option they choose and they are paid at the end of the day. Denver Day Works also provides a sack lunch for each of the employees.
On the Elections side, Littlepage said a decision was made to pay the Department of Human Services the amount the city would have paid election judges, working the same hours, that were not part of the program.
“We wanted to do this because we hope that it will help expand the program,” Littlepage said.
Although a mechanism like Denver Day Works may not be available in every jurisdiction, if it is, Littlepage strongly recommended that other elections officials consider working with the program.
Ritosa echoed Littlepage’s sentiments and offered some advice. He said if other elections groups are considering recruiting among the homeless population, it’s important to recognize how on-boarding and operations can be structured using some principles of supported employment (as opposed to competitive employment).
“For instance, we were successful because 1) we ensured that they could reliably work for pay (cash) on the scheduled day, 2) we offered breakfast, lunch, and a secure place to store personal belongings, 3) we operated at a location easily accessible by public transit and/or near other service providers, and 4) we were careful to conduct the background checks transparently, after gaining initial trust, and ensuring that a failure would not be just one more ‘closed door’.”
Littlepage is looking forward to continuing the partnership this year.
“As the election judge coordinator for the Denver Elections Division, I feel it is important to always have different sources and ways to find the large amount of election judges needed from election to election,” Littlepage said. “I am so thrilled to collaborate with this program again in 2018; this is a great partnership to have between Denver Human Services and the Denver Elections Division and I am eager to see it grow.”
This is really an impressive story; not only is it great that Denver is looking for work opportunities for the homeless, but also that such a program could help the city address its own election staffing needs. Thanks to Mindy for sharing the story and kudos to everyone in Denver who made it possible.
Have a safe and wonderful weekend … and stay tuned!