Tech’s biggest names are using their vast consumer reach to bring voters to the polls this November.

Their efforts range from getting voters registered to giving their own employees time off to cast ballots.

The push comes as tech is getting more comfortable engaging in politics and as industry-watchers closely look for any hints of political bias.

{mosads}Tech’s efforts are taking a number of forms, as companies nudge the public to register in time.

Last Saturday, Airbnb celebrated the anniversary of the Voting Rights Act with a message on its U.S. website, encouraging visitors to “Join us in celebrating this historic day by registering to vote.”

“Airbnb hosts and guests are engaged in the communities they call home and we believe that everyone should be able to participate in the crucial conversations that will shape the future of our country,” the company said.

Google, meanwhile, added voter registration information, including registration deadlines and step-by-step directions, directly to their search pages this summer.

Several companies — including Airbnb, Lyft and Salesforce — have made a “nonpartisan, long-term commitment to increase voter participation” as part of the new “TurboVote” challenge. Rock The Vote has also partnered with Microsoft, Twitter and dating app Tinder.

Matt Mahan, the CEO of Brigade, which develops social networking applications for voters, praised the efforts of companies to get involved in civic life.

“I think that’s a really positive development and its high time,” he said.

Alongside registration efforts, a growing movement is pressuring tech companies to give their employees time off to vote.

Hunter Walk, a venture capitalist who is a supporter of the cause, said the hope is companies will view providing time off to vote as an important cause rather than a legal requirement, as it is in some states.

He said he hopes executives will come to say, “‘Hey, this matters, we’re going to remind you and make it more of a norm rather than just trying to accommodate those of you who wish to participate.’ “

This line of thinking is gaining traction. Spotify US, Twilio and TaskRabbit are among more than 175 companies who have signed on.

“Unfortunately, Election Day is not a federal holiday in the United States, making it difficult for many people to take time off from their jobs to vote,” payments company Square said in a post last week. “That’s why we’re making Election Day a company holiday.”

Politics have always been a complicated business for tech companies — and the new voter participation efforts come at a time when questions about ideological bias in Silicon Valley are increasingly common.

Earlier this year, Facebook moved quickly to address allegations its “Trending Topics” feature discriminated against right-leaning views, with CEO Mark Zuckerberg sitting down with prominent conservatives. Google has been similarly aggressive about quashing any claims of bias.

But the voter participation efforts are also a part of tech companies’ new openness to political action.

Major technology companies spend handily on advocating for favorable policies around the country. Google’s parent, Alphabet, spent more than $16 million last year on federal lobbying and Facebook spent almost $10 million, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.

Companies have similarly become more comfortable with civic engagement. Google launched an application programming interface with information on elections and government ahead of the 2012 election and Facebook has for years reminded users to vote at the top of their News Feeds.

Registering voters may have once been seen by companies to be a political act — and therefore off limits — but those views are changing.

“I’ve been doing this for twelve years, it’s never happened,” said Maria Teresa Kumar, the president of Voto Latino, about corporations aggressively looking to partner with her group. “I usually have to knock on the door and make the case.”

Noah Theran, a spokesman for the Internet Association, said getting involved with voter participation was in line with the mission of many tech companies.

“The democratization of information is a core mission of internet companies, and efforts to help voters get to the polls reflects this commitment,” he said in an email.

Political outcomes can often have a real impact on a company’s financial success. Many Silicon Valley companies — including Airbnb, Lyft and Uber — now find that they have to overcome tough political and regulatory challenges by mobilizing their users.

But several people interviewed rejected the idea that tech companies’ voter engagement efforts were simply motivated by their own political goals.

Jen Tolentino, who leads Rock The Vote’s technology efforts, said that their intent wasn’t to help those companies mobilize voters for their own political fights.

Walk said the efforts to boost civic involvement are linked to the growing political activity at tech companies, but aren’t a cover.

“I guess, in my mind, they’re certainly related — but it’s an embrace of the need to engage with the political system in general rather than sort of [saying] ‘Let’s get all these people engaged under the guise of an election and then if a politician messes with us we’ll turn these people lose on their office,’” he said.

The debate is unlikely to be resolved any time soon, as the role of tech companies in daily life grows and the industry’s political efforts expands.

Mahan said if companies could boost civic participation in a “nonpartisan and quote unquote safe way,” Silicon Valleycould take bolder steps to turn people out to vote.

“Then I think we can get creative,” said Mahan. “I think we can put voter registration forms in peoples’ onboarding packets. We can put registration and voting deadlines on the company calendar.”


The Hill has removed its comment section, as there are many other forums for readers to participate in the conversation. We invite you to join the discussion on Facebook and Twitter.

See all Hill.TV See all Video

Most Popular

Load more


See all Video