Gainesville pares back Election Day holiday

A half-million-dollar cost estimate prompted the Gainesville City Commission to revise an earlier directive to turn election days into city holidays.

City staff had come back to the commission during its general policy committee meeting Thursday to ask for clarification on a July 2021 vote that would have made election days into paid city holidays.

Scott Heffner, from the city’s human resources department, asked the commission to provide direction on which elections counted as holidays. He also asked if the holidays applied to employees who didn’t reside in Gainesville and wouldn’t vote in city elections or to employees who worked a shift on Election Day that didn’t occur when the polls were open.

Part of what Heffner also presented was the potential financial cost of adding a full day off for city employees. The Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday in January for example cost the city $516,603 in terms of paying people for the holiday and paying overtime costs for employees, such as police officers and firefighters, who work on holidays.

“That’s a significant budgetary cost,” Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos said. He proposed instead that the city offer up to two hours of paid time off for employees to go vote.

His motion was approved 5-0 with Commissioners David Arreola and Desmon Duncan-Walker absent.

The two hours off is available during the early voting period as well as on Election Day and can be used to bring someone else to the polls. The time off will be offered for the primaries and general elections, which occur every other year, and for presidential preference primaries, which occur every four years.

“I think a larger goal is civic engagement,” said Commissioner Reina Saco, who chaired the meeting as mayor pro team with Mayor Lauren Poe participating via Zoom. “If you work for the city, it’s ideal that you be civically engaged because that is your job to some degree.”

The city has moved the timing of its non-partisan municipal elections to align with the statewide primaries and general elections, so they are already included in the set of eligible elections. Additionally, any special elections for Gainesville city offices are eligible for time off.

The commission discussed a plan to require employees verify they voted in order to receive the two hours off. But a verification process was seen as too cumbersome and not cost effective.

“We have to trust our workers at some point to tell the truth,” said Adrian Hayes-Santos. “[A verification system] would create a lot of work.”

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