A bill in the Alabama Legislature would end supplemental pay given to Calhoun County’s circuit clerk for processing absentee ballots. If passed, the bill would save a few thousand dollars each year, said Calhoun County Administrator Ken Joiner.
The bill would amend a measure passed by the Legislature in 2005. That measure, Joiner said, was intended to provide incentive for regular poll workers in Calhoun County, not to supplement the circuit clerk’s pay, Joiner said.
Since the law was passed, poll workers have received between $25 and $50 in additional pay for each day they work during an election. The circuit clerk, who serves as the absentee election manager, also receives $25 in supplemental pay for each day poll workers put in during an election.
But for the circuit clerk, who receives a salary from the state, that figure adds up. That’s because, as absentee election manager, the clerk works for more than 40 days in advance of each election to make sure each absentee voter has the opportunity to cast a ballot.
That adds up to $1,150 for each election for Calhoun County Circuit Clerk Ted Hooks. Under the law, Hooks also receives $150 per day to do the job.
Added together, Hooks receives roughly $8,000 for processing absentee ballots for a general election.
Hooks’ office is tasked with processing absentee ballot applications, mailing ballots out and collecting them. During major elections, the work can be demanding, Hooks said. But some elections aren’t as much of a challenge.
In the 2009 primary election for the late Rep. Lea Fite’s seat, Hooks’ office had to process just seven ballots. During the general election, in which Rep. K.L. Brown, R-Jacksonville, won, the circuit clerk’s office had to process 67 ballots, according to the records in the Calhoun County Probate Office.
Brown, the bill’s sponsor, said that Hooks’ office was paid roughly $1,000 per ballot for his primary election. Brown said he thinks the supplemental pay should be eliminated for the circuit clerk.
Not every election is so easy. For the 2008 presidential election, Hooks’ office had to process more than 2,000 absentee ballots.
Hooks says he is owed the money for the work his office accomplishes at election time.
“This is an additional job that the clerk does,” Hooks said. “If we don’t do it somebody else will have to do it and they’ll have to get paid.”
Hooks said he and his staff work nights and weekends at crunch time. Hooks, who receives the check for counting the ballots, said his role is largely administrative.
He added that he splits the check with an employee who helps with the work.
“There has never been in Calhoun County not one hint of any scandal, not one instance of irregularities and that’s very unusual. I’m very proud,” Hooks said. “It’s not an easy thing.”
Any change would have its greatest effect on Hooks' successor. Hooks has said that he is not running for another term.
Joiner said he favors the bill and thinks Calhoun and other counties could save about 75 percent of the cost of counting absentee ballots if the county commissions took over the process. About five years ago, local legislators introduced a bill that would have done just that, but it didn’t pass.
“This is the type of legislation that our legislators need to be paying attention to statewide,” Joiner said.
The county pays 100 percent of the supplemental fees for local elections. If the election includes candidates running for state offices, the state pays for half of the expense. And if the ballot includes only candidates running for state offices, the state pays for all of the expense.
Whether the county or the state pays, the money comes from the same place, Joiner said.
“The taxpayers are paying every penny of it,” he said.
The county’s next election will be in late April, when candidates match up in a primary runoff for a seat on the Public Service Commission, along with a few local runoffs. That election, Joiner said, will cost the state $3 million.
Hooks’ office will receive between $7,000 and $8,000 of that, Joiner said.
“We’re still going to have to pay the full amount even though there won’t be 10 people who vote,” Joiner said.
Staff writer Laura Johnson: 256-235-3544. On Twitter @ LJohnson_Star.