With the U.S. 2018 midterm elections less than a month away, the major political parties have shifted into high gear, both sides energized by the recent controversial confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court. Media attention on this hotly contested election is only intensifying.
“I really do think the upcoming election in November is one of the most important in American history,” says Professor Francis Fukuyama of Stanford University, author of Identity: The Demand For Dignity And The Politics Of Resentment.
But the crux of the matter is: will American voters turn out? Skepticism is warranted. The U.S. has one of the lowest voter participation rates in the developed world, as low as 36 percent. Compare that to voter participation in Australia (93 percent) or Sweden (86 percent).
Giving workers time to voteNow the corporate world has entered the fray. More than 150 companies including Kaiser Permanente, Levi Strauss & Co., Patagonia, PayPal, Tyson Foods and Walmart are supporting the Time to Vote campaign, a nonpartisan effort led by CEOs aimed at increasing voter participation.
Why don’t more Americans vote? 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. We also can’t discount voters’ disillusionment with politicians and the political process. Can U.S. companies change their minds?
The organizers say companies can do a lot more to make it easier for their employees to vote. For instance, they can allow time for employees to vote by providing paid time off, a day without meetings, and resources for mail-in ballots and early voting. In fact, some 26 states already have laws on the books to give employees time off to vote. Here’s what some companies say they are doing:
- Patagonia is closing for business on Election Day so that any one of their U.S.-based employees can vote (the company first did this in 2016).
- Levi’s is giving corporate employees five hours to vote on Election Day, and retail employees will have three hours to vote.
- Walmart created a website with resources to help people get informed and to the polls.
- Lyft is offering ride discounts and giving free rides to the polls for people in “underserved communities” - the company is also partnering with the nonprofits Urban League and Voto Latino to decide what falls under this umbrella.
An underlying agenda?Patagonia’s CEO Rose Marcario says, “The momentum around Time to Vote gives me hope for a future where business can act as a force for good. Together, we can remove barriers to civic participation and encourage all American workers to be citizens and voters first.”
Yet civic duty alone is not the only driver of the Time To Vote campaign. As reported in Vox, the vast majority of names on the list of participants have previously expressed some kind of resistance to President Trump’s agenda. For instance, the CEOs of Gap, Eileen Fisher, Levi Strauss, and others participating in Time to Vote voiced opposition to Trump pulling the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Agreement last March.
Regardless of underlying motive, the effort is feeding into an electorate that is already fired up. A Pew polling showed 78 percent of Democrats and 75 percent of Republicans saying the election “really matters” and that the outcome is important to them. If voter turnout on Nov 6 manages to make a dent in the country’s voting apathy, corporate involvement in increasing voter turnout may well become a regular feature of the political landscape.
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