PITTSBORO — With the highest voter turnout in the state, timely election results and consistent transparency, it’s not a stretch to say the Chatham County Board of Elections goes above and beyond.
The strong work of the board is made more impressive because they are consistently understaffed and, they say, under-compensated. That’s why members of the Board of Elections made a push to Chatham County Commissioners on Monday to provide fair and adequate compensation to its existing three staff members and fund new positions in the office.
The BOE requested an additional $80,000 in this year’s county budget. Part of the funding, $30,000, would increase existing staff salaries. The other $50,000 would go toward hiring a specialized machine technician. The BOE also pushed to hire an elections specialist, this position was funded under the current budget proposal. BOE staff said, however, the machine technician is a higher priority, and that role is not funded under the current proposed budget.
BOE members said a salary increase is needed to keep elections fair and efficient in the county. They said without adequate pay for elections staff, the BOE will struggle to recruit and retain hires.
“With increased jobs, increased housing and population growth coming online soon, that is going to impact elections,” said Robert Waldrop, a Chatham resident who spoke during public comment in support of the BOE at the Chatham Agriculture & Conference Center on Monday. “They know the details, they know the system and we need to keep and encourage the team by increasing their salaries.”
Chatham County Elections Director Pandora Paschal said the board has been pushing for salary increases for more than three years. These increases, she says, are not meant to pad their personal pockets, but rather to stay competitive with surrounding districts and ensure the board can continue doing its job adequately.
“All of us want to maintain Chatham’s reputation as a model for statewide elections,” Paschal told commissioners Monday. “A lot of people don’t understand what it is we do when there isn’t an election, but it’s not as simple as just one day every two years.”
Commissioners resolved to discuss the proposal from the BOE during county budget work sessions, which take place May 23 through 25. No formal action was taken on this item.
• The Chatham Commissioners also heard a presentation on redistricting to make county-wide elections more fair and representational. Chatham currently operates under a residency districts system, meaning candidates must reside in the district they serve but are elected by all the voters in the county.
The 2020 Census showed the districts are not equal by population, which led to the proposal from county staff. Districts should, where feasible, be equal in population to ensure fair representation of all areas of the county.
Future commissioner district maps would take into consideration population growth projections and other developments.
The board agreed to support further exploration of redistricting. If maps are redrawn, the new districts need to be approved at least 150 days before the primary election, which would mean they must be completed by no later than October 7, 2023. No further action was taken on this item.
• The board recognized outstanding volunteers in the county for their contributions to various organizations. The recognized volunteers were Michael Hobbs, Robert Goetze, Marylou Mackintosh, Mary Nettles, Johnny Shaw, Rosemary Szydlek and Connolly Walker.
• The board unanimously passed a resolution in support of designation of Temporary Protected Status for Guatemalans. The latest Census shows more than 25,000 Guatemalans live in North Carolina. “These families are an integral part of the community who should be welcomed and supported, and we should protect vulnerable persons who seek safety in our community,” the resolution said.
The passed resolution will be forwarded to Congresswoman Valerie Foushee.
The next Chatham Commissioners meeting is scheduled for 9 a.m. on Tuesday, May 23, at the Chatham Agriculture & Conference Center in Pittsboro. Commissioners will hold budget work sessions from May 23 to 25.