Opinion: Strengthening ranks of poll workers helps our democracy

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Elections 2022

Poll workers are the mechanics of democracy. They do the unglamorous but necessary work of keeping our election machinery running so Americans can be confident our votes will be counted and our voices heard. And poll workers have never been more important — or under more pressure — than right now. That’s why companies that care about our democracy should step up and encourage employees to serve as poll workers this November.

As The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has reported, there is an alarming shortage of poll workers as we head into the midterm election because of COVID-related concerns, the retirement of older workers, and the very real fear of harassment and abuse – like the shameful treatment Fulton County poll workers Ruby Freeman and her daughter Shaye Moss faced.

Credit: contributed

Credit: contributed

Combined with recent state laws designed to make it harder to vote, the poll worker shortage should worry every Georgian and every company operating here. So much is at stake this November, from control of the statehouse to control of Congress and the future of our planet itself. That’s why Patagonia is giving employees time off to train and serve as poll workers. We did it here in Atlanta and nationwide in 2020, and we’re doing it again this year. The ACLU of Georgia has a great program to recruit poll workers locally. For people outside Georgia, Power the Polls has simplified the process of signing up online.

The more poll workers we have, the smoother the voting process will be because counties will be able to operate a sufficient number of polling locations and process ballots in a timely fashion.

You may be wondering: Why is Patagonia so concerned about voting? The short answer is that our company is in business to save the planet. The right to vote is the foundation for progress on everything we care about.

Since 2016, Patagonia has closed its doors on Election Day to encourage employees and customers to head to the polls. Other companies can join us at Time to Vote, a nonpartisan business-led movement that Patagonia co-founded with Levi Strauss and Co. and PayPal to ensure no American has to choose between earning a paycheck and voting.

More businesses should offer employees incentives to go beyond voting and serve in their communities. They can follow the example of companies like Old Navy, Target and Warby Parker, which paid employees for time off to vote and work at the polls in 2020. Or the NBA, which recently announced teams won’t play on Election Day — a move aimed to encourage civic engagement and prompt fans, players and staff to vote.

We have seen what happened when Georgia’s voter roll grew by nearly 2 million over the past decade, while politicians cut the number of polling locations by nearly 10 percent and added unnecessary restrictions on voting rights. The result is longer lines for voters, more pressure on poll workers and fewer opportunities for Georgians to make their voices heard. If more companies get involved, it will send a message that Georgians are willing to defend our democracy and that intimidating poll workers and suppressing votes won’t fly. Democracy works when we do.

Sloan Richardson is the store manager at Patagonia Atlanta.