Should Election Day be a national holiday? Some employers give workers day off to vote

 

Today’s guest blogger is EBN’s own online managing editor Kathleen Koster, who spoke to employers looking to make election day a national holiday. Read on to see how these companies make their case, and as always, leave your thoughts in the comments. —Kelley M. Butler
With less than two weeks before the 2012 election, GOOD, a Los Angeles-based company, hopes to spur employees to do their civic duty by giving them Nov. 6 off from work.
While leaders at GOOD hope that eventually state and federal lawmakers will make election days official holidays, or move voting day to a weekend to encourage more participation, they recognized that this year the company would have to lead by example. 
So on Nov. 6, the sustainability consulting firm has pledged to close its doors and give workers the day off to vote. After only a few weeks, 45 other companies have signed up for Take Back Tuesday http://www.good.is/posts/take-back-tuesday-make-voting-day-a-national-holiday, GOOD’s grass-roots effort to make election day a national holiday. The majority are smaller companies, with several organizations employing more than 100 workers.
“We almost take it for granted, but why do we vote on a Tuesday?" asks GOOD Co-founder Casey Caplowe. “[Why] is a major federal election held on a regular work day?” 
Along with groups like Why Tuesday?, they plan to support ongoing petitions and legislation for changing the election date. But for the fast approaching 2012 election, the employers made a “DIY national holiday.” Not only do they want to give employees plenty of time to cast a vote, they also wish to "celebrate our democracy." 
While the majority of state laws give employees the right to take off work to vote http://ebn.benefitnews.com/news/cast-your-vote-for-compliance-2728428-1.html, Caplowe and partnering employers want to make it official. By giving workers time to vote, it makes the process more accessible, they assert. It also elevates the day, explains Caplowe, giving election day the importance it deserves in a fun, engaging way. 
The strong patriotism Americans hold for their country doesn’t reflect in our dismal voter turnout rates, which consistently fall below eligible voter rates of other democracies. 
That’s why Kiva, a micro-lending organization in San Francisco and participant in the Take Back Tuesday movement, wrote to employees that it is “giving everyone the day off in the spirit of a more engaged citizenship."
While GOOD advocates that employers close down on Nov. 6 or make work optional, they recognize this may not be practical for every company. Even offering employees flexible hours before or after their shift could help get out the vote.
For example, one employer can’t give employees the full day off, but will present employees who show their voter stub with a free Starbucks coffee.
Another group in Detroit is sponsoring a community volunteer day where employees can participate in a street clean up instead of coming to work on Election Day.
"Companies should [take steps such as these] in order to encourage participation in this wonderful democracy we all live in,” says Caplowe.
However, even with flexible options,  some worry that in such a polemical election cycle, employers encouraging worker participation in the voting process could lead to voter intimidation or employee harassment.
Already, one American CEO has spurred controversy for emailing his employees to let them know they may get fired if President Obama wins re-election. http://ebn.benefitnews.com/blog/ebviews/david-siegel-communication-problem-solution-2728260-1.html 
What do you think: Are initiatives like Take Back Tuesday beneficial to our political process, or by encouraging and incentivizing employees to vote, do employers only further muddy the political waters? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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