Plymouth Town Clerk Josie Girona Ewing wants to be clear: She doesn’t do this job for the money. She does it because she wants her neighbors to be able to trust their elections. But living up to that goal in 2020 took a lot of extra effort — and extra hours.
“I put in at least 15 to 20 more hours of work in each week, depending on the week,” she said. “But many weeks, I was bringing work home, I was working well into the night.”
New Hampshire’s local election officials logged lots of early mornings, long nights and weekends on the job in 2020 to ensure voting could proceed despite all of the changes due to the pandemic. In many cases, they did so without any extra compensation. In Plymouth and elsewhere, some officials are trying to change that.
“I think election officials are asking for acknowledgment and because of the amount of time, the significant amount of time that was put into maintaining our election system this year,” Girona Ewing said.
To that end, she asked the Plymouth Select Board to use part of the emergency federal funding they received for COVID-related election expenses to compensate her and other local election officials for their extra time.
Elsewhere, other communities have chosen to offer extra pay to part-time election workers or small stipends to clerks. Whether a local election worker receives any pay for the extra time they put in this year will vary depending on where they live.
The Secretary of State’s office says communities are allowed to use the emergency election funding they received through the CARES Act “for compensation above and beyond [local election officials’] set salary or stipend.” But ultimately, the decision is left up to local selectboards.
New Hampshire City and Town Clerks Association President Sherry Farrell, of Londonderry, says she hopes those decisionmakers keep in mind all of the responsibilities clerks have been shouldering throughout the pandemic — in elections and beyond — as they weigh these compensation questions.
“You know, from the very beginning when little was known about this pandemic, we still were in here opening doors, rubber gloves, spraying Lysol,” Farrell said, “because what we do had to continue. We couldn't just work for home like so many different positions could.”
While Farrell is careful not to compare her job to that of first responders or other emergency personnel, she hopes people recognize that clerks were also “essential workers” who made sacrifices to ensure their neighbors could continue to cast a ballot, register their car, license their dogs, apply for marriage licenses and more throughout the pandemic.
“We had to be here on the front lines,” Farrell said. “And some offices are still closed — some of the smaller offices, or if a case of COVID should come through — but behind the scenes they are still taking the mail, they're still meeting residents outside, processing things, because what we do has to continue.”