With just 51 days left until November’s 2020 presidential election, big employers are helping to boost voter turnout by giving their employees some slack.

As voting rights organizations have sounded the alarm about poll worker shortages — largely due to the coronavirus pandemic — some of America’s best-known companies have banded together to bolster the recruiting process and make voting easier for employees across the country.

MORE COMPANIES PLEDGE TO GIVE WORKERS TIME TO VOTE

The U.S. has one of the lowest voter turnout rates in the developed world and roughly 55% of voting-age citizens cast ballots in 2016, marking a 20-year low. In 1996, 53.5% of voting-age citizens turned out.

Voting is not compulsory in the United States and there is no federal holiday that would make getting to the polls easier, unlike in other democracies. In 13 states, Election Day is a paid holiday for state employees.

A Board of Elections worker wearing a protective mask shuttles USPS bins loaded with ballots for counting in a secured New York facility. (AP Photo/John Minchillo) (Associated Press)

Midterm elections in 2018, however, saw a huge increase over the previous three midterms, with 120 million voters — 35 million more than in the previous midterm — suggesting a potential influx in 2020.

That level represented the largest share of eligible voters to turn out in a midterm year since 1914, according to The Atlantic.

Amid uncertainty about polling locations, the success of mail voting, and the performance of the U.S. Postal Service, figures such as those have spurred the creation of coalitions such as the Civic Alliance.

According to Pew’s Stateline, poll staffers’ presence could be “the difference between a smooth election and long lines, mass confusion, and miscounted ballots.”

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While anyone over the age of 16 can sign up to work during Election Day and be compensated for their time, the majority of poll workers are senior citizens.

Nearly 60% of U.S. poll workers were over the age of 60 in the 2018 general election, with nearly 30% over 70, according to a Pew Research Center report.

That poses a challenge this year, since the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers seniors to be at higher risk for severe illness from the COVID-19 virus, with eight out of every 10 deaths involving adults 65 or older.

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Even prior to the pandemic, though, almost 70% of states and jurisdictions have struggled to recruit sufficient staff.

Elections experts estimate that 460,000 poll workers will be needed this year.

Hoping to fill in the gap, the Civic Alliance created Power the Polls to help recruit low-risk poll workers to staff in-person voting locations on Election Day and during early voting in October.

More than 70 of the alliance’s “member companies” are working to encourage employees and consumers to serve as poll workers.

Thus far, the group has signed up more than 350,000 people to help with the election, smashing through its original goal of 250,000.

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Additionally, more than 700 companies have joined the nonpartisan “Time to Vote” movement — founded by outspoken outdoor apparel company Patagonia Inc. — and have committed to giving employees time off, access to and information about early voting or vote-by-mail options, and offering paid time off on Election Day or making it a day without meetings. Their goal is to have 1,000 organizations on their roster by November third.

Some companies have committed fully to the initiative, while others have dipped a toe in the water.

A Harvard Kennedy School case study found evidence that “corporate political engagement is beneficial to businesses” and that consumers are “more loyal to brands that take a clear stance on issues they care about.”

A cashier places a bag of items in a customer’s shopping cart at a Target store in Chicago. The retail company is giving employees paid time off to work at polling places on Election Day. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images

On Friday, social media giant Facebook became the latest major employer to give workers paid time off to vote — up to eight hours on Election Day — and serve as poll workers.

Although encouraging workers to schedule time to vote, Starbucks stopped short of offering pay for their employees. Apple has announced that employees would be given up to four hours to vote and volunteer.

Uber and Twitter aim to give employees a paid day off on Election Day and the rideshare company’s CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi, said in June that the company would use Uber Eats resources to help individuals register to vote, get to the polls, and feed people in line waiting to vote.

Lyft, another Time to Vote member, will provide voters with free and discounted rides to the polls.

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The day will also be a paid holiday for all U.S.-based Coca-Cola and Reddit employees.

Retail behemoth Walmart offers three paid hours to vote for employees whose scheduled shifts don’t otherwise allow them to leave while polls are open, Farmer’s Insurance gives employees up to two hours, and Gap, Inc. subsidiary Old Navy announced on September 1 that its employees would receive a day’s worth of pay if they signed up to work at the polls.

Target Corp. and Warby Parker will also give workers paid time off to serve as election workers; Target has offered paid time off to vote for years.

General Motors, Ford, and FiatChrysler have given employees the day off to vote since 1999, when they agreed to alter a contract with the United Auto Workers union.

Patagonia completely shuttered its headquarters, distribution center, and stores nationwide for the general elections in 2016 and 2018, also offering a paid holiday for employees.

In some cases, workers will have to give their supervisor a day’s notice if they need to leave to vote, since managers are creating “voting plans” to ensure that shifts remain staffed on Election Day.

In a statement on the “Time to Vote” website, Patagonia CEO Rose Marcario said America works better when people go to the polls.

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“Demonstrating your company’s commitment to voting reinforces the idea that American businesses can protect our democracy,” she said. “I have been heartened to see business leaders from every corner of the country and across a range of industries prioritizing the health of our democracy and I look forward to seeing this movement grow.”



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