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