Opportunities for the Private Sector to Promote Civic Engagement
There is an opportunity for companies to build on the momentum gained last year to increase voter turnout in the U.S. and to further explore the range of activities they can undertake to promote voting.
In 2020, the United States saw the highest voter turnout in a presidential election in more than 120 years and some would argue, the highest corporate engagement in getting out the vote that the country has ever seen. Nearly 66 percent of the voting-eligible population voted, up by 6 percent from 2016, 8 percent from 2012, and 4 percent from 2008. The high voter turnout is telling that concerted efforts made by public, private and social sectors to get out the vote made an impact.
We saw that companies not only have a valuable role to play in supporting their employees and communities to vote, but it is also being expected of them by their employees, investors and consumers. With mid-term elections held every two years and presidential elections held every four years, there is an opportunity for companies to build on this initial momentum to increase voter turnout and to further explore the range of activities they can undertake to promote voting.
Companies Addressing Common Barriers to Voting
Companies – including Patagonia, Paypal, Levi Strauss & Co., Walmart and Apple–directly enabled their employees to go vote by giving them paid time off, which is a common barrier faced by people to vote. A Pew Research Center survey from the 2016 national election reported that nearly 14 percent of people who decided not to vote were either too busy or had a conflicting schedule. We also saw over 1,300 companies join the 2020 ‘Time to Vote” campaign where participating companies offer paid time off on Election Day or make it a day without meetings. Yet while there is progress, according to a 2020 study conducted by the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM), 45 percent of large organizations (500+ employees) said they are not offering paid time off to vote and only 33 percent are offering unpaid time off for voting. Given that paid time off to vote is not a federal law nor widespread across states, companies have an opportunity to create an environment where their employees do not need to choose between pay or voting.
Companies are addressing other common barriers to voting, including voter ID requirements, misinformation about the election, voter registration challenges, and disruptions at polling stations, through partnerships across industries and sectors. For example, as claims of voter fraud appeared weeks before the election, on October 27, 2020, 500 CEOs, including brands like Target, Starbucks,
Lush Fresh Handmade and Edelman, issued a statement as part of a nonpartisan business coalition, Civic Alliance, recognizing “state and local election officials as the trusted source for certified results.”
With nearly 2 million new voter registrations lost during the early days of the pandemic, over one hundred companies partnered with National Voter Registration Day to register 1.5 million new or updated voter registrations in 2020. As barriers to voting evolve, companies should keep abreast of how to shift their voter promotion activities to address those barriers. Additionally, the activities companies engaged in to promote voting suggest that they have a critical role to play in reducing the barriers to vote and promoting voting across their employees, consumers and society at large.
Moreover, companies leveraged the power of their brand in publicly committing themselves to promoting voting and more broadly civic engagement. For example, in Patagonia’s Commitment to Making Democracy More Accessible issued on September 17, 2020 it stated “Patagonia is doing its part to help ensure we have safe, free and fair elections this November.” Furthermore, as Chip Bergh, President and CEO of Levi Strauss & Co., stated, “People have fought and died for the right to vote in America and as business leaders we have a role to play in helping our employees participate in the democratic process.”
Voter Promotion is Becoming a Corporate Norm
Corporate promotion of voting took various forms from large public campaigns and partnerships to small activities such as emails about Election Day to staff. Regardless of the extent of activities a company takes, there are real benefits to increasing voter turnout in a nonpartisan manner. For instance, this year in addition to its standard practice of allowing employees paid time off to vote, PYXERA Global hosted a knowledge share to discuss what more the organization could do to promote voting, resulting in a public social media post to promote voting amongst the organization’s nearly 8,000 followers and an exchange internally of resources for voter promotion and volunteering.
From the large number of companies engaged in promoting voting and well-known brands making public commitments, it is evident that voter promotion is becoming a norm amongst companies that is also backed by community and investor support. Ninety-two percent of 600 institutional investors who responded to Edelman’s 2020 study agree that business leaders have an obligation to use their power and influence to advocate for positive change in society. The next U.S. mid-term election is on November 8, 2022 and there is an opportunity for companies to rise to the challenge of increasing voter turnout from the 53 percent that was seen in 2018.
Resources for Voter Promotion Activities
Companies do not need to recreate the wheel in where to begin their voting promotion activities. There is a growing body of resources, corporate and nonpartisan non-profit partners to choose from that already engage in voter promotion activities. As companies look to the next U.S. election, they should engage with these resources, consider what is feasible for their company, and learn from the approaches of companies and non-profit organizations who helped contribute to the high 2020 voter turnout. Campaigns and resources for companies to consider referencing in building out their voter promotion activities include:
- “Time to Vote” campaign: A nonpartisan movement, led by the business community, to contribute to the culture shift needed to increase voter participation in our country’s elections.
- National Voter Registration Day: A nonpartisan civic holiday celebrating our democracy to support voter registration by awareness raising efforts
- Civic Alliance: A non-partisan group of businesses working together to build a future where everyone participates in shaping the country
Ensuring that Americans are educated about their right to vote and able to both access and exercise it demands the support of all sectors. The high voter turnout in 2020 showed us that companies have the capacity to step into this vital part of the democratic process to get out the vote.