How To Take Time Off For Election Day & Make It A Policy At Your Company, According To Experts
Election Day in the United States is always held on a Tuesday. According to NPR, our Election Day schedule is thanks to a decision made in 1845 that factored in having to avoid religious days of rest (Sunday) and market days (Wednesday), while still allowing everyone ample travel time to get to the polls (all of Monday, if you're a rural farmer traveling by buggie to the nearest big city). But now that our economy has changed considerably, having Election Day on a Tuesday makes it far more difficult for everyday working citizens to cast their vote. As a result, today the U.S. has one of the lowest voter turnouts in the developed world, according to Pew Research Center, with just over 55 percent of the voting age population showing up to vote in the 2016 presidential election. If your company's attendance policies are a significant barrier preventing you or your coworkers from voting, you can advocate to change the policy in your workplace to make it easier to take time off to vote. And with the midterm elections (and their attendant primaries) coming up super soon, it's important to figure this out — well, now.
The reasons for low voter turnout in the U.S. can get a little complex, not the least of which is the issue of, well, folks have to go to work on Election Day. If you work in retail, food service, or any number of hourly jobs, you might not be able to afford to take time off to vote. The question of how to make voting more accessible for workers, and particularly hourly workers, has been a quiet but important discussion in recent years. Former President Barack Obama advocated for automatic voter registration or same-day voter registration, as well as shifting Election Day to a weekend or making it a national holiday, in order to make voting as accessible as possible, according to USA Today. Well, we’re stuck with voting on Tuesdays for now, but there are steps workers can take to advocate for making Election Day a holiday at their companies.
Michael Klazema, human resources expert and Chief Marketing Technologist at VODW, and lead author and editor at backgroundchecks.com, tells Bustle via email that employees can stress the importance of the voting process to their employers, while reassuring them that having flex time for Election Day isn’t about just getting a day off. Before pitching time off for voting to management, coworkers can consult with one another, explore what some of the workplace barriers to voting are, and “find out what might be precluding people from voting,” Klazema says. “While the pitch can be under the banner of ‘We need an Election Day holiday,’ a scaled-down proposal to management to get a few hours off will likely get a better reception.”
Dr. Laura Hamill, Chief People Officer and Chief Science Officer of the Limeade Institute, tells Bustle via email that many companies support their workers by providing flexibility on election days, and that employees should feel encouraged to advocate for their own wellbeing at work — which includes upholding their right to vote. “A company’s greatest asset is their people,” Dr. Hamill stresses, and that “your people are your advocates, changemakers and [those] who will propel your company forward.” Dr. Hamill also notes that employees can push for making Election Day a holiday by “making voting a priority.”
Dr. Hamill also tells Bustle that companies can incentivize the voting process in some fun, yet powerful ways — like passing out ‘I Voted’ stickers and buttons, blocking off calendar time for voting, and making it a company goal to get everyone on board to vote.
Klazema also stresses that those who struggle the most to take time to vote on election days are hourly workers “who typically don’t have vacation time or personal days to spare.” By creating flex time options for voting days, companies can ensure that everyone has a chance to participate in the voting process. And while we may be a long way off from having Election Day as a national holiday, businesses can support their employees in getting sufficient time off to vote. “Companies [...] can take steps to ensure people get at least one to two hours to go to the polls on voting day. That is the quickest and easiest way to get more people voting in the next election: give them time,” says Klazema.
So, if you want to make change at your workplace, talk to your colleagues about what they need in order to make it easier to vote. Then, ask your manager or management if you can submit a proposal, which also outlines the ways taking the short time off will benefit the company, too.
Klazema further notes that certain states, like Hawaii, offer everyone a two-hour window to vote on election days, while other states support absentee voting if businesses and employees can’t afford the time off. While shaping your strategy to encourage your company to create opportunities for employees to vote, remember that there is also, “a tremendous opportunity at the state and local level to create a greater window for people to vote on Election Day.”
So ask your coworkers, ask your manager, ask your town clerk if they'd support a proposal to for a half day or an even an hour off work to encourage employees to vote. There's no harm in trying.