Some metro Atlanta employers want to help you this election season

Voters had a long wait, some two to three hours, at the Park Tavern polling place on Tuesday, June 9, 2020 in Atlanta. (John Spink/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

Stepped-up efforts include paid Nov. 3 holiday, poll volunteers

This year, more than ever, your boss wants to make it easier for you to vote.

It isn’t unusual for companies to encourage workers to go to the polls. But this election season, many are wading deeper into efforts to get out the vote amid massive challenges and societal angst.

Thousands of metro Atlantans who work for Coca-Cola or Mailchimp will get new paid holidays on Nov. 3, election day. Cox Enterprises, which owns The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, just added up to six hours of paid time off a year for its full-time employees to vote. Entities from Delta Air Lines to Home Depot and the Metro Atlanta Chamber are encouraging employees to volunteer as poll workers.

Companies are boosting efforts to share information internally and to the general public about voting deadlines and procedures and how to get an absentee ballot. They are offering access to sample ballots and ways to look up polling locations. Some, such as the Atlanta Falcons, which recently launched a Rise Up & Vote campaign through the national group Rock The Vote, are helping people check whether they are registered to vote.

The Atlanta Hawks have made State Farm Arena available as a voting precinct, part of the Hawks' recent focus on voting rights after a company-wide discussion on race in early June.

Election day for the U.S. is on a weekday, when many people are traditionally working. States have varying rules about whether and how much time off employers are required to provide for workers to vote.

Georgia requires that employees who give their employer reasonable notice be permitted to have up to two hours of time off to vote. For some voters stuck in long lines during the troubled primaries earlier this year, that wouldn’t have been enough time.

In a deeply polarized election year, many companies stress that their get-out-the-vote efforts are non-partisan. Coca-Cola said it made election day a paid holiday in response to employee feedback.

“Supporting our employees' right to vote is fundamental to the strength of our democracy and the cause of free and fair elections,” Monica Howard Douglas, Coca-Cola’s North America general counsel, said on a company website.

A lot has piled up to scramble nerves this year in particular, say organizers of various voting support efforts. COVID-19 raised concerns about how to vote safely. The virus scared off many experienced poll workers, contributing to chaos and hours-long waits to vote in the primaries in some Georgia precincts as the state rolled out new voting machines. It also sparked expectations for a massive shift to absentee voting.

Protests over racial injustice in the wake of police shootings have increased interest in civic involvement, while law enforcement has cited foreign interference in U.S. presidential elections. President Donald Trump has warned of voter fraud and blasted some mail-in voting while Democrats have warned of vote-suppression efforts.

At the same time, companies around the nation have felt more pressure — and shown more willingness — to speak out on social issues and to offer clear actions for workers seeking more civic engagement.

Rock The Vote, a national effort to build the political power of young people, is marking its 30th anniversary, but it’s seeing a surge both in interest by companies to join the movement and in the pace of new voter registrations, spokesman Andrew Feldman said. “For us, 2020 feels different.”

Beyond the Falcons, two big players in Atlanta — Cox and WarnerMedia — are among those that started or expanded their involvement in Rock The Vote.

This summer, in the wake of Georgia’s voting problems during the primaries, Betsy Armentrout and Jennifer Dorian launched GaVotingWorks. It’s designed to be a non-partisan effort for Georgia businesses to get employees involved in elections. “It felt like an urgent time to help,” Dorian said.

Companies have options to help as they see fit. Among the potential steps: Encouraging employees and the public to take part in early voting in October, recruiting technology workers to help elections officials and helping voters on election day by providing boosted WiFi, water or shade.

About 20 companies have already lined up for the effort and the organizers predict twice that many will be in place by the end of the month. Some of the participants include Coke, Cox, Delta, YMCA Atlanta, Roadie, Parkmobile, The Lola and the Hawks.

GaVotingWorks has partnered with Business for America and its Operation Vote Safe effort. Sarah Bonk said when she first had the idea to launch BFA a few years ago, it was challenging to get businesses involved.

They didn’t see it as an urgent issue, she said. And “they were concerned that it is perceived as partisan. Companies don’t want to hack off the wrong person.”

But she said their interest has grown more recently. More companies have also signed up for the Take Time To Vote, a national business-led initiative to help ensure employees are afforded opportunities to vote without losing paid time.

A recent Pew Research Center Survey found about half of registered U.S. voters say they expect voting to be very or somewhat difficult this year. Just 15% said the same before the 2018 midterm elections.

A prime source to find your voter registration information, sample ballots and polling places is on the state’s My Voter Page at www.mvp.sos.ga.gov.

— Staff writer Mark Niesse contributed to this article

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