New Jersey election workers would get a $75 a day raise, their first in 19 years, under a revised bill that has received initial approval by a Senate committee.

A similar bill had gotten that far last December before stalling. That version would have increased the pay by $100, but it appears that the $5 million in state funding in the bill wouldn’t have fully covered the originally proposed increase.

Poll workers would be paid $275 for each primary and general election they work, up from the current level of $200. The state’s share would increase to $200, with counties responsible for the other $75.

“I realize the training that’s required, the long hours that you guys put in, and that’s why I was proud to sponsor this bill,” said Sen. James Beach, D-Camden.

“I know that getting high recruiting, high-quality top people to do your job is extremely important to the whole election process,” said Beach, a former Camden County clerk. “I see sometimes people kind of burn out, and that’s why I thought that this bill was extremely important.”

Nicole Dirado, administrator for the Union County Board of Elections, said election workers are required to begin work at 5:15 a.m. and don’t leave until some point after 8 p.m. She said they are to a degree “underestimated and undervalued in the process” – and increasingly difficult to recruit and retain.

“According to statute, the poll workers are entitled to a one-hour lunch, to be taken before 5 o’clock, and that rarely happens,” Dirado said. “Also according to statute, we’re supposed to staff our poll workers at five per district, and two of them are supposed to be bilingual. And that also rarely happens.”

“What we are seeing is the significant decrease in our poll workers. The retention of our poll workers – they don’t show up or they decide that they’re not working,” she said. “So we are losing a lot of seasoned poll workers, and going into a presidential election, it’s kind of a scary thing.”

Many poll workers, the majority of them from Union County, were on hand for the Senate State Government, Wagering, Tourism and Historic Preservation Committee hearing where the bill, S598, was advanced unanimously Monday.

“The poll workers do put in a hard day of work,” said Union County master poll worker Carol Lombardo. “And they give every ounce of blood, sweat and tears that they can, because they don’t get that many breaks. They are the backbone of the election process, in my opinion.”

(A poll worker is one who is assigned to a specific district to work at a table or election machine for an entire day. Master poll workers float to whichever polling place they are needed at across a municipality or other geography to help resolve an issue.)

“With the level of expertise that our poll workers need to have in order to make sure that our elections are fair, the increase in pay is necessary and it’s right,” said Quanae Palmer Chambliss, a Union County master poll worker who said that with new election machines, the position is similar to an IT job.

William Ditto, a Monmouth County poll worker, said the pay works out to less than $14 an hour for a 14-plus hour shift.

“We’ve heard about the retention problems of workers, and it is definitely necessary to raise the remuneration for these workers. There’s no question about it,” Ditto said.

Michael Pakay, a Union County master poll worker, said many poll workers take a day off from their regular jobs to work at an election.

“Nineteen years ago, they may not have been making $200 a day,” Pakay said. “Today many poll workers take off the day from work and are actually losing money working longer hours.”

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