COLUMBUS, Ga. (WTVM) - The USC Schwarzenegger Grant not only helped establish a new polling place at the Columbus Convention and Trade Center, it also reemployed over a dozen trade center employees who were furloughed due to the pandemic.
Bernice Carter was one out of 15 trade center employees who lost their job when the pandemic hit.
“Oh God, it feels so good to be employed,” Carter said.
Due to former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger awarding roughly $200,000 to the Muscogee County Elections Office through his USC Institute for State and Global Policy, those employees have now been hired back as poll workers, according to trade center director Hayley Tillery.
“When she reached out to me recently and said we were blessed with a great grant, is there anything else we can do? I said well, I can get some workers in to help execute it,” Tillery said. "We were also able to extend our hours of voting from today until October 30.”
The trade center will serve as an early voting location for voters every day, even Saturday and Sunday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Fania Troche said the most exciting part of this new career venture for her is being able to serve the community in a different was. Previously, she was serving drinks as a bartender, but now she’s helping Muscogee County voters shape the future of the nation in the upcoming election.
“Who would have thought we would have been working the polls in 2020? The 2020 elections and I am working the polls. To me, it is mind-boggling,” Troche said.
All 15 workers completed their training Thursday and could be seen in action Friday cleaning and sanitizing the 60 new voting machines and helping voters find their way to the polling place.
Even Carter’s son, Antonio, has been hired back and said he is happy to be back working alongside his “distant” family.
“I missed everyone. It was good being able to see everyone I used to work with in the kitchen. This is my family, besides my immediate family. The people here are family too,” he said.
Voters said this is a huge improvement compared to other voters' experiences who stood in hour-long lines at the City Services Center on Macon Road.
A few other early sites will also be opening up soon.
Starting October 19, voters will be able to vote at the Shirley Winston Recreation Center from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Starting October 25, you can vote at the Columbus Civic Center and the Columbus Health Department’s new building from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.