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Employers sign on to give time off for voting

Employers sign on to give time off for voting
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A record number of businesses are making Election Day a paid vacation day for employees, adding momentum to this week’s voter registration efforts.

Best Buy, Nike and Twitter are among the major U.S. companies that will give time off for workers on Nov. 3, when voting in person may take longer than usual due to COVID-19.

Voting rights experts and advocates are hopeful that the business community’s involvement this year will help set a precedent for future elections.

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“As a general matter, I think it’s a good thing for companies to be able to support their employees to be part of the civic process, to vote, to give them opportunities,” said John Fortier, director of governmental studies at the Bipartisan Policy Center.

Other companies giving employees the day off include Coca-Cola, Cisco, Uber, Gap, JPMorgan Chase, Visa and J Crew.

More than 1,100 companies have joined the Time To Vote movement, which was co-founded by Patagonia, Levi Strauss and PayPal to encourage employers to provide either several hours or a full day off for workers to vote.

“We are incredibly pleased with how the movement is building and with the fact that it reaches workers in every state in the country in a variety of industries and in a variety of job functions,” JJ Huggins, spokesman for Patagonia, told The Hill. “We’ve gone out of our way to ensure that it’s nonpartisan.”

Time to Vote was launched ahead of the 2018 midterm elections, and more than 400 companies committed at the time.

“Surely it falls on the side of making it easier for people to vote this year, and anything that also sends the overarching values message about civil engagement in any year is also a plus,” said Jennifer Weiss-Wolf, vice president for development and women and democracy fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice. “This is a completely nonpartisan initiative and that’s the only way it can work.”

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Some states require several hours of paid time off for employees on Election Day, while others have no such requirement. That second camp includes states like Delaware, Florida, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina and South Carolina.

“That companies are filling that gap this year in such force is really important,” Weiss-Wolf said.

Some companies are going a step further by paying employees who decide to serve at polling stations on Election Day. Polling workers tend to be older, and elderly individuals are more susceptible to the coronavirus.

Other businesses, like the NBA teams, are making their properties available as polling places in an effort to provide safe-in person voting during the pandemic.

The risks of in-person voting have also prompted a shift toward mail-in ballots, lessening the impact in some ways of time off for employees on Election Day.

But experts say the widespread support from corporate America still has its benefits.

“Perhaps yes, it is less meaningful,” said Theodore Allen, associate professor of integrated systems engineering at Ohio State University. “Still, I do honor efforts to encourage honest enfranchisement.”

He noted, though, that companies must be “careful to avoid the impression of elite leaders or owners forcing their beliefs on employees.”

President TrumpDonald John TrumpMore than 300 military family members endorse Biden Five takeaways from the final Trump-Biden debate Biden: 'I would transition from the oil industry' MORE has previously sparred with some of the companies giving time off on Election Day.

He went after Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey when the social media platform started tagging his tweets as misleading, and he once said Nike “is getting absolutely killed with anger and boycotts” over an ad campaign with Colin Kaepernick in September 2018.

On the flip side, CEOs from Visa, Cisco and Uber were part of Trump’s “Opening the Country” council of business leaders in April, and the president praised JPMorgan Chase for having senior employees return to the office this month.

The Trump campaign applauded companies for encouraging voting on Election Day, with an emphasis on in-person ballots rather than voting by mail.

“We are happy to hear that companies across the country have joined us in acknowledging that casting your ballot in person on Election Day is the most secure way to vote and the best way to have confidence that your vote counts! Rather than upending our election system mere weeks before a general election, Democrats should join our efforts to make it easier and safer to vote on Election Day,” Thea McDonald, Trump for President deputy national press secretary, said in an email.

Democratic presidential nominee Joe BidenJoe BidenMore than 300 military family members endorse Biden Five takeaways from the final Trump-Biden debate Biden: 'I would transition from the oil industry' MORE has endorsed the idea that Election Day should be a national holiday.

“There’s still a significant effort in this administration to make it more difficult for Americans to vote. When you and I get elected, God willing, we’re going to push hard to make Election Day a national holiday so people don’t have to take off work,” Biden said to his running mate, Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisThe Hill's Campaign Report: Trump, Biden face off for last time on the debate stage Obama says he voted by mail: 'It's not as tough as a lot of folks think' Clean energy opportunities in a time of crisis MORE (D-Calif.), in a recent campaign video.

The decision by businesses to give their employees time off comes amid voter registration initiatives involving social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook on Tuesday for National Voter Registration Day.

In 2018, more than 50 percent of eligible citizens voted, the highest turnout for a midterm election in modern history, according to Pew Research. About 58 percent of eligible people voted in 2016, comparable to four years earlier but down from 62 percent in 2008.

Proponents of time off on Election Day say that even if a new turnout record isn’t set this year, giving workers a full day will help those most in need.

“It’s not clear that it’s going to help a wide range of voters, but it will help voters that are facing particular challenges at the polling place in this election,” Fortier said. “I think just a company taking a step to move policies in the direction means they will probably continue it in the future.”