By Chip Cutter
Hundreds of U.S. companies plan to give employees time off to vote in this year's presidential election as part of a business-led push to lift the nation's traditionally low voter turnout.
At least 383 companies, with more than two million workers in 50 states, including JPMorgan Chase & Co., Target Corp., Best Buy Co. and Hewlett Packard Enterprise Co., have signed on to the Time to Vote initiative. Organizers said they aim to enlist 1,000 companies by November, more than double the number that participated in a similar turnout drive in the 2018 midterm elections.
Some states require employers to give workers time to vote if requested, but many companies are taking additional steps. A number plan to grant paid time off, while a few businesses such as the outdoor clothing company Patagonia said they might close stores and offices on Election Day. Some companies are also rolling out monthslong get-out-the-vote campaigns and helping employees navigate a patchwork of voter-registration deadlines and primary dates.
"Democracy really only works if people go out and vote," said Chip Bergh, chief executive of Levi Strauss & Co. "So how do we make sure that every eligible voter is registered and gets out?"
The initiative is a nonpartisan effort, the companies said, although some organizers of the Time to Vote campaign have been linked to political causes.
"This is not about who gets elected," says Neil Blumenthal, co-founder and co-chief executive of the eyeglasses seller Warby Parker, one of the participating employers. "This is about ensuring people participate in our democracy."
U.S. election turnout remains lower than in many other developed nations. In the 2016 presidential election, only about 60% of eligible voters cast a ballot, according to data tracked by the United States Elections Project. Scheduling conflicts and being too busy rank among the top reasons registered voters don't participate, Census Bureau surveys routinely show.
Mr. Blumenthal said Warby Parker, which employs about 2,700 people in the U.S., is asking its retail-outlet employees in various cities how long they waited to vote at polling stations in previous elections so managers can plan schedules. In states with early voting, Mr. Blumenthal said the company is also encouraging that option.
Some companies said they want to make it easier for workers to obtain election-related information. Johnson Controls International PLC, the industrial and technology conglomerate, is developing a "one-stop shop" on its internal website that could, for instance, provide election deadlines, said Katie McGinty, the company's vice president of global government relations.
Yogurt maker Chobani plans to use email, internal videos and town halls to raise voting awareness, said Peter McGuinness, the company's president. Chobani, which joined the Time to Vote initiative last year, grants its workers three hours of paid time off on Election Day.
Tax preparer Jackson Hewitt Tax Service Inc. will close its corporate and company-owned locations at 3 p.m. on Election Day and encourage franchisees to do the same. Levi Strauss is giving paid time off to its retail and corporate employees and plans to bring in outside groups to help educate workers on ballot issues.
Some people are taking matters into their own hands. The nonpartisan nonprofit Vote.org said it has received emails from workers asking how their companies can do more to support employees in voting. In addition, close to 500 employers have signed on to the group's initiative known as ElectionDay.org, in which companies pledge to offer paid time to vote, said Nora Gilbert, director of partnerships at Vote.org.
Beehive Strategic Communication, a 15-person St. Paul, Minn.-based communications firm, is banning meetings during the first and last two hours of the workday on March 3, which is Super Tuesday, when the Minnesota primary is scheduled, Chief Executive Lisa Kolrud Hannum said. The company will close its office Nov. 3, the day of the general election, giving employees a paid holiday.
Political divisions persist in many workplaces. In a survey of U.S. workers this month by the research and consulting firm Gartner Inc., about nine out of 10 employees said they discuss politics at work or overhear political conversations at work, and about one in three workers said they actively avoid colleagues whose political beliefs differ from their own. About 47% of respondents said politics affects their ability to get work done.
"Let's fill the election year with something that everyone can rally around," as opposed to talking politics, Ms. Hannum said. "That's voting."
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