Sept 7 (Reuters) - From Georgia to Wisconsin to Ohio earlier
this year, voters in primary elections were stuck for hours in
lines from sharply reduced polling locations. And the surge in
absentee ballots due to concerns over the coronavirus pandemic
overwhelmed election officials.
Heeding the stark warning ahead of Election Day on Nov. 3,
U.S. companies are aiming to facilitate what is expected to be a
chaotic 2020 U.S. presidential election. Twitter and
Apple are giving workers paid time off to get to ballot
boxes. Starbucks and The Gap's Old Navy are
urging staff to volunteer at local polling stations.
Nearly 800 companies including Nike, healthcare
company Abbott Laboratories and technology company
Qualcomm are participating in a CEO-led bipartisan
activist group called Time to Vote, which encourages companies
to give employees at least a few hours off to vote.
Starbucks Chief Executive Kevin Johnson said last month that
people could work out with managers when they can head to polls,
adding that the move is partly motivated by concerns about Black
voter suppression. Starbucks is also urging its over 200,000
U.S. employees register to vote from its mobile app.
We know that barriers exist, notably in Black and Brown
communities throughout the nation, that lend to systemic racism
and require greater voter access and protections, Johnson said
in an internal memo on Aug. 27. No (employee) will have to
choose between working their shift or voting on or before
Rules securing time off for workers to vote vary by state.
In New York, workers can be paid for up to two hours to vote,
but they may be required to give advance notice. In Alabama,
workers get one hour of unpaid time.
Voting is always important, but the degree of partisan
polarization this year seems to be extraordinarily high. This
makes the stakes of the election unusually high as well, said
Jonathan Entin, professor of political science at Case Western
Partisan battles over expanding mail-in voting amid the
pandemic have threatened to snarl the political process where
more than a third of registered voters are expected to do so by
mail or vote early in person, according to a survey published in
August from Democracy Fund + UCLA Nationscape project.
President Donald Trump for months has railed against voting
by mail citing unfounded fraud concerns and last week encouraged
supporters to vote twice, once by mail and again in person,
compounding the confusion ahead of Election Day.
Nearly half of voters fear difficulties with voting in the
U.S. presidential elections, according to a voter survey by Pew
Companies including Tiffany & Co, Levi Strauss
and Walmart have offered paid time off or
flexible hours to workers.
If any employee needs extra time to vote or work at the
polls, they can simply work with their managers on creating a
flexible schedule, a spokesman for packaged food company
Conagra Brands said.
Some companies, including Kraft Heinz and Target
, have also set up websites to guide employees on
registering to vote and learning about candidates in partnership
with the League of Women Voters and the National Association of
Several states have warned in recent months that they may
not have enough poll workers, with Maryland at one point
estimating it was short 14,000 people. In response, companies
including Target and The Gap have offered paid time off to
volunteer as poll workers. Poll sites are expected to fall short
of volunteers as older people who are more at risk to COVID-19
infection have typically staffed sites and are expected to stay
The two companies have joined 150 others including
Amazon.com and Etsy to help sign up 350,000
new volunteers through a corporate-led campaign called the Civic
Alliance. The group says on its website that its goal is to
drive historic voter turnout in 2020.
(Reporting by Richa Naidu in Chicago. Additional reporting by
Melissa Fares and Helen Coster in New York, Eric Johnson in
Seattle, Tracy Rucinski in Chicago; Editing by Kenneth Li and