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135 companies, including Walmart and Gap, give workers time off to vote

135 companies, including Walmart and Gap, give workers time off to vote
[Photo: Flickr user Joe Hall]

The United States has one of the lowest rates of voter participation in developed world. In the last presidential election, only 56% of the voting age population cast ballots. And during midterms, turnout numbers go down further: In 2014, for instance, they hit a historic low at only 36%.

The numbers alone would suggest that Americans are just not politically engaged, or don’t care about their democracy. But there are other basic reasons that people don’t go to the polls. The most common reason Americans give for not voting is that they are too busy or simply can’t take time off work to vote.

But today, a diverse group of 135 companies–including Walmart, Patagonia, Kaiser Permanante, Levi Strauss, and Lyft–have banded together to launch a new campaign called Time to Vote. These companies, which range from startups to enormous corporations, have committed to giving their employees time off and flexibility to vote starting with this upcoming November election. This will involve a wide range of programs, including paid time off, days without meetings, and on-site resources for mail-in ballots, or early voting.

This is an interesting corporate-led initiative to try to increase voter turnout. And these companies are inviting other companies to join their efforts: Organizations can visit the website MakeTimeToVote.org to pledge to offer their employees programs to help them vote.

Other countries have taken a different approach to ensuring that citizens vote. Twenty-four countries around the world, for instance, have some form of compulsory voting. Belgium, which has a compulsory voting policy, had turnout rates of between 83% and 95% over the past four decades.

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