The importance of voting is always much talked about — this year perhaps more than most. But now more than 300 CEOs are putting some real skin in the game, and on Tuesday their workers will reap the benefits.
In the past two months the Time to Vote movement has grown to include some of the nation’s top retailers, manufacturers, and many in the hospitality industry — all of them committed to giving their employees paid time off to vote. Many of those companies are right here in Massachusetts. Like Patagonia, which put a simple little sign on the door of its Newbury Street store saying, “When the polls open, we close.”
The fact that during the last midterm election, in 2014, voter participation was a pathetic 36 percent — a post-World War II low — has spurred many retail executives to buy into an effort that now includes Walmart, Southwest Airlines, The Gap, Farmer’s Insurance, Nordstrom, Levi Straus, and the restaurant chains Cava and Sweetgreen.
The effort reflects an unfortunate reality: Even if Massachusetts and other states embraced proposals for weekend voting — a practice common throughout Europe and much of the rest of the world —
such a reform would do little for retail workers and other seven-day-a-week businesses.
So this merry band of corporate pioneers wants to send a message that voting is an important civic obligation — important enough for some businesses to make Election Day a paid holiday.
That’s what Patagonia did first in 2016 for all of its more than 1,500 employees in retail outlets, its corporate headquarters in California, and its distribution and service center in Nevada. CEO Rose Marcario, a leader in the Time to Vote effort, wrote in a blog post, “ ‘Corporate citizenship’ gets a lot of lip service, but too few companies stop to consider what citizenship really means. It’s not just about being a good member of your community, as crucial as that is. . . . It requires supporting democracy.”
Waltham-based InkHouse CEO Beth Monaghan says she’s giving her public relations firm of 110 employees the day off because “inclusion is written into our company values.” And she vows to keep that promise “until Election Day is the national holiday it should be.”
The corporate leaders involved in the movement have made varying levels of commitment. The Mediterranean restaurant Cava, founded by a first-generation American, announced in a letter to employees that they would be offered two hours of paid leave to vote. The company has also been proactive in providing information on early voting and mail-in voting opportunities. Uber and Lyft are offering free or discounted rides to the polls in the areas they serve. Businesses are encouraged by Time to Vote to have a “no-meetings” day to provide optimal flexibility for workers to make time before or during their working day to cast a vote.
Democracy is so part of the American DNA that we too often take it for granted. Ho hum, just another Election Day. It shouldn’t take the leadership of these several hundred corporate trailblazers to remind voters that Election Day ought to be treated like the civic celebration it genuinely is, and that apathy can be a graver danger to democracy than all the trolls and bots Russia can throw at us.
Those who have benefited most from the economic freedoms this nation offers have found a unique way to give back. Voters should do no less.