Dan Golden is closing the doors of his digital marketing firm on election day. The CEO isn’t required by law to give his employees the day to vote on November 6. He’s doing it out of a sense of civic duty.
“For me, it’s always about walking the walk,” Golden, the CEO of the Chicago-based Be Found Online, says. “The reason people don’t vote is because they are busy with their schedules or their jobs.”
Golden, whose company has approximately 75 employees worldwide with 40 full-time positions in the US, believes small businesses like his have a role to play in growing voter turnout. He’s passionate about the subject and advocates for making election day a national holiday. Recently, he joined as a founding member of ElectionDay.org, an offshoot of the Vote.org campaign.
He’s not alone.
“There have been a few attempts to come up through congress. But nobody has bitten.”
Many organizations, businesses and even politicians, have advocated for making Election Day a national holiday, like Labor Day or Memorial Day. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt), who ran for president in the 2016 election, previously proposed legislation to make Election Day a national holiday. Meanwhile, large businesses such as Patagonia are closing their stores during the midterm elections this year to allow employees time to vote, while Lyft will be offering discounted or free rides to polling places. The push to make Election Day a Federal holiday seems to come up with the same frequency as national elections themselves.
“There have been a few attempts to come up through congress” to turn Election Day into a holiday, says Colette Kessler, who is managing the ElectionDay.org movement. “But nobody has bitten.”
Kessler says that while the organization advocates for instating a Federal holiday to vote, it’s focus is on recruiting businesses to offer time off to employees — whether a few hours or an entire day — to vote in elections. Advocates like Kessler say that would spur greater participation during elections since workers often cite scheduling issues for work or school as a reason they don’t vote.
According to a Pew Research Center study on the 2014 midterm elections, the number one reason registered voters cited for not voting in that election cycle was conflicts with work or school. US Census Bureau data of reasons people choose not to vote in 2016 election cycle paints a more nuanced picture, though. Being “too busy” or having a “conflicting schedule” was the third most cited reasons people gave for not voting at 14%, behind not liking the candidates or issues (25%) and a general lack of interest (15%).
A push for businesses to lead the way on voting time off
Advocates say work conflicts creates a barrier for employees that could best be addressed by having businesses volunteer time off or flexibility to vote.
“A national holiday while it would be a really good step and really good signal for companies but it doesn’t really effect the millions of restaurant workers or retail workers,” Kessler notes. “The fastest, most effective way to direct change now is to work with companies.”
Increasingly, companies are committing to effort, offering paid time off policies such as civic time off, time off for voting or flexible scheduling to accommodate participation in elections. Many large organizations such as Chrysler, Levi Strauss, Southwest Airlines and Kaiser Permanente, among others.
One time off policy does not fit all
But small businesses are also participating. Time to Vote, another initiative encouraging companies to grant time off to employees for voting, listed at least 100 participants that were as ubiquitous as Walmart to as niche as Taos Fly Shop.
Golden’s business may not have the resources of Walmart, but he says granting his employees the day off to vote wasn’t a big challenge. “It was an easy-ish move for me to pull the CFO aside and cancel all meetings on that day,” he says. Golden communicated to clients in the last election and in the upcoming election in advance, ensuring their needs will be met.
But extending the same benefit may prove more complicated for other small businesses, especially those whose work is performed outside of an office. Those in retail, hospitality and healthcare, for instance, would likely require extensive scheduling efforts.
“I’m not against the idea of making voting day a national paid holiday because I think voting is that important,” says John Quintos, owner of Cento Coffee, which operates four locations in San Francisco, Ca. “However, there are serious repercussions to that.”
Quintos notes that many of his employees earn compensation through tips in addition to their hourly wage. The hourly wage he pays out is $17, but his workers earn around $30 per hour when tips are factored in. If he closes for Election Day and paid the hourly wage to employees, that $13 per hour would either come out of his pocket or his employees, he reasons.
“If this movement stays in a white collar sector, then it’s not doing its job.”
“If we could instead offer 1-2 hours of paid time for them to go vote in the middle of the day, that seems like the best option,” Quintos adds. “I think we could honestly pull that off, though I don’t think all businesses would be able to.”
Kessler admits that businesses and their workers outside the office environment do face more challenges in making it possible to take time off for elections. But she also stresses how important it is to bring those types of small business into the fold.
“If this movement stays in a white collar sector, then it’s not doing its job,” she says.
For now, time off to vote will stay largely a voluntary measure taken by individual businesses, rather than a national holiday. Perhaps a groundswell will lead to more sweeping change.
Meanwhile, Golden’s business has already sent out an email about their plans and encouraging other businesses to join the movement.
The email concludes: “Otherwise, we’ll see you back in the office on November 7th.”
Editor’s note: Zenefits recently instituted a Civic Time Off policy for its employees. This policy grants time off for “civic engagement” activities including voting, volunteering for a candidate, attending a school board meeting, canvassing, or any other time devoted to “civic engagement or civic participation.”
Isabella Lazzareschi contributed reporting to this article.