With less than a month to go until November’s general election, exhortations to vote are ubiquitous. Previously the domain of political parties, candidates and non-profits, get-out-the-vote messaging has now been embraced by brands and businesses of all kinds, from social networks to athletic wear. While companies may have their own motives for such messaging, we nevertheless applaud their sentiment. Unfortunately, the efficacy of such messaging is likely to be minimal.
There is, however, a single, straightforward action companies can take to drive an increase in voting: provide time off for employees to vote. In 2016, just 58% of eligible US voters cast a ballot. A follow-up survey by the US Census revealed that nearly 15% of respondents who said they had not voted in the election selected “too busy, conflicting schedule” as their main reason for not voting, second only to “did not like candidates or campaign issues” out of the twelve possible reasons provided. This is a problem businesses are uniquely positioned to solve.
Fortunately, many corporations are responding to the challenge. Business-led initiatives such as Time to Vote and Day for Democracy have garnered commitments to give employees time off to vote from hundreds of companies as varied as Google, Abbott Laboratories, and Unilever. Some, like Salesforce, have made election day a company-wide holiday. Others who have not signed on to these efforts, such as Verizon and Apple, have nevertheless committed to providing their employees with 4 hours of paid time off to vote on election day. Still others have been giving employees the day off to vote for years, including Ford and General Motors, whose union contracts have included the provision since 1999. The movement’s moment among corporations is so great that Time to Vote has doubled its number of signatories in barely more than a month.
At Prentiss Smith & Company, we have made our own commitment: all employees will have the option to take any additional paid time off necessary to vote on November 3. Additionally, we are offering up to a full day of optional paid time off for those who wish to serve as poll workers or to volunteer for get-out-the-vote efforts. With polls open from 7 AM to 7 PM in Brattleboro and 7 AM to 8 PM in Philadelphia, this could make for a long day, but we hope it will be an impactful and fulfilling one for staff who choose this option.
As with the response to the killing of George Floyd in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, we are encouraged to see so many companies go beyond simply co-opting the messaging of the movement, to taking a clear and concrete step to support our democracy. Going forward, we will do what we can to urge companies to make these commitments permanent, at least until government once again takes on greater responsibility for making voting accessible to all citizens.