Patagonia CEO: Voting in the US is a mess. Businesses can make it easier

What started as a conversation with a few colleagues over the summer has become a major movement of nearly 3...

Posted: Nov 2, 2018 6:31 AM
Updated: Nov 2, 2018 6:31 AM

What started as a conversation with a few colleagues over the summer has become a major movement of nearly 370 companies that are encouraging their workers to be citizens and voters first. This year, companies large and small are taking steps to remove work-related barriers through the Time to Vote initiative.

They are doing things like making Election Day a "no meetings" day or, as Patagonia and others are doing, shutting down all US-based operations for the day. These companies employ millions of people who will now have the flexibility needed to cast a vote.

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But not all employees enjoy that same flexibility. It's true that 44% of US companies are giving employees paid time off to vote, but that still leaves a majority of American workers likely to be tied up at work while the polls are open. This can decrease turnout and skew the electorate toward wealthier Americans who tend to have salaried jobs and more flexible schedules. That's why the US government should make Election Day a national holiday. Businesses could plan ahead, knowing employees will be off that day, and employees would have the freedom to vote when it's most convenient for them.

The government should also create a national vote-by-mail program. Right now, our elections are governed by an enormous patchwork of voting systems, with different sets of rules, technologies, policies and local restrictions in practically every community. This is extremely confusing. It also makes our country vulnerable to those who seek to meddle in our elections and susceptible to anyone seeking to restrict voting rights. A national vote-by-mail initiative would make voting more accessible, more convenient, less expensive, and more secure. And nobody waits in line.

It's not just up to the government, though. And who knows how long it could be before we see changes like these? Business leaders can lead the way by encouraging employees to vote. In addition to being flexible about work hours to allow employees to get to the polls, companies can make it easier for them to register to vote long before Election Day.

At a time of fractured media and Internet misinformation, employers have a special opportunity to promote good voting habits. They can embed voter registration and election basics into standard HR processes, like hiring and onboarding, or during health care open enrollment time or as part of regular business updates.

After Tuesday, regardless of political outcomes, we need to keep pushing hard to make it easier to vote and to celebrate voting as the central and most powerful expression of American citizenship. As a nation, we face many intractable problems — coming together to increase civic participation will give us an opportunity to solve them. Now go vote!

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