We are in the midst of a Republican-led national campaign to restrict voting. According to the Brennan Center (2021), 18 states have already enacted 30 laws this year that will make voting more difficult. The federal government has the ability to pass national laws via Congress to mitigate the effects of many state-level restrictions, such as the “For the People Act” and the “John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act”. But due to the lack of a clear majority for both bills, we cannot wait for the federal government to act. We must mobilize the private sector to counteract the effects of restrictive voting policies.
Across the country, laws have been enacted that restrict voting access by shortening the hours of operation of vote centers, reducing the number of drop boxes available for absentee ballots to be dropped of, preventing the distribution of water and food to voters waiting in long lines to vote, purging voter roles, preventing proactive outreach regarding absentee ballot voting, and more.
The private sector can and should work to mitigate the effects of these policies. Companies should commit to policies advanced by Time to Vote, for example, which mobilizes CEOs and private company leadership teams to pledge that employees will be given the time they need to cast their ballots. More specifically, companies big and small must offer paid time off to vote. This can be done in many ways: allowing for late arrival to work or early departure from work in order to cast one’s vote without penalty and with pay; educating employees internally about local elections, deadlines to register to vote, time frames to conduct one’s vote, etc; facilitating the ability to register to vote on site in the workplace, and more.
The beauty of such policies are many. First, working to counteract barriers to vote is nonpartisan, and thus does not politicize the workplace. Second, there is an interest convergence at play. If the need for voting rights and election integrity are essential to the operation and preservation of our democracy, the private sector has every interest in preserving these rights. Our democracy has created the greatest economy the world has ever known. Private companies operate within and benefit from the stability and integrity of our democracy.
And let’s be clear that this is also about racial justice. Restrictive voting measures disproportionally disenfranchise racial minorities, and in fact, are insidiously designed to do just that. Those corporations that do not take a clear stand against racial injustice and enact policies to further justice and equity are on a sinking ship as the demographics of the country change and as younger generations demand some level of social and/or economic activism from private companies. The distortion of our democracy as reflected in less participation by racial minorities threatens the sustainability of our democracy, and the environment in which private companies can achieve prosperity.
So what can be done on an individual level? Talk to your employer about programs like Time to Vote. The fact that nearly 2,000 companies across the country have signed on to the pledge gives it legitimacy, and will allow your company to be in the good graces of many other reputable firms. Demand that your company and other large, national firms do not donate to candidates at the local, state, or federal level that do not protect voting rights. Speak out on social media about the importance of the private sector when the government fails to protect our rights.
And remember: none of our rights to participate in our democracy are safe until all of our rights to participate in our democracy are safe.
Natalie Diaz is the Chief of Staff at Time Equities, Inc.