The Time to Vote campaign, announced on September 24, is a nonpartisan effort aimed at increasing voter participation in the US by getting companies to enable or encourage their employees to vote. Some 140 CEOs have signed on to the initiative, including the heads of some of the country’s largest private employers:
The U.S. has one of the lowest voter participation rates in the developed world, recently as low as 36 percent, and one of the most common reasons that people give for not voting is that they are too busy, or have work and life demands that prevent them from voting. To change this paradigm, a diverse coalition of companies including Kaiser Permanente, Levi Strauss & Co., Patagonia, PayPal, Tyson Foods and Walmart are coming together, starting with the November elections, to increase voter turnout.
The Time to Vote campaign also aims to increase awareness about the steps employers can take to allow time for their employees to vote. The companies joining this campaign are committed to increasing voter participation through programs such as paid time off, a day without meetings and resources for mail-in ballots and early voting. And all of them care about their workforces and supporting democracy.
Whereas many countries hold elections on weekends or make voting days public holidays to ensure that most voters can take part, election day in the US is observed on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November and is not a national holiday.
Many states grant employees the right to take time out of their workday (with no pay penalty) to perform their civic duty if they don’t have free time while polls are open, but federal law does not require organizations to accommodate their employees’ right to vote. Accordingly, the country’s unusually low participation rates are often attributed to the fact that many working Americans are unable to leave work to vote.
While activists and some members of Congress have been fighting to make election day a national holiday for some time, this has been an uphill battle and is unlikely to succeed anytime soon. In any case, it is debatable whether a holiday would actually make it possible for more Americans to vote, as the hourly employees who have trouble getting to the polls already are also more likely than their white-collar neighbors to still have to work on a holiday. Alternatives to a federal holiday include more laws giving workers the right to take time off to vote and more voluntary choices by employers to encourage voting.
This form of corporate political engagement has been picking up steam since 2016, when a group of nearly 300 tech companies agreed to give all their employees election day off, ensuring they would have a chance to vote, in addition to a number of other efforts by large and small employers. At a time when the American workforce is more politically engaged (and polarized) than ever, giving employees a day off or flexibility on election day is an increasingly popular way for US companies to make a difference in American political life without picking sides.