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The Role of Companies

In the 2018 U.S. midterm elections, more than 113 million voters cast ballots, making it the largest voter turnout in a century. A record 44 percent of U.S. firms gave employees paid time off to vote, up from 37 percent in 2016. This trend is expected to continue in 2020.

According to Pew Research, three in five Americans want the voting process to be easier for U.S. citizens. Eighty-one percent of consumers prefer to buy from companies that support democracy. Employers have the credibility to promote informed voting in a nonpartisan way, motivating their employees to exercise their right to vote – and making it easy for them to participate in the democratic process.

“Nonpartisan” is the operative word here. While company leaders have an obligation to speak out on issues relevant to their business and corporate values, election preparation is focused not on partisan policy issues but on the very bedrock of democracy. Organizations of all sizes, across industries and sectors, can play a role in making sure that every citizen has the opportunity to cast an informed vote.

Benefits of Proactive Civic Engagement

A recent report in Harvard Business Review describes the sweet spot for organizations as “pro-democracy and pro-voter, without being partisan.” In other words, invest in information, tools and practices that help employees understand candidates and issues as well as how and where to vote.

The HBR report outlines civic engagement actions taken by eight companies including Gap, Spotify, Target and Blue Cross Blue Shield MN. These companies indicated that, in addition to increasing voter turnout, their campaigns raised brand awareness, strengthened relationships with employees and shareholders, elevated the company’s standing with elected officials, and generated positive feedback on social media.

Five Critical Actions

Employers have much to gain – and little to lose – by being proactive about getting out the vote in 2020. But for organizations who haven’t done this before, it can be overwhelming – questions about where to start and how far to go can paralyze busy executives with the best intentions. Here are five critical steps to help you manage employee engagement for the 2020 election: 

1. Assess your organization and determine if policy change is needed. Do you have an understanding of employee voting habits and the laws for the state(s) you operate in? Do you offer time off to vote for all employees? Can you make Election Day 2020 a “no-meeting day” to further remove barriers to voting? Do you want to change anything about your existing voting policies and practices to make it easier for people to vote?

2. Determine the scope of your effort. Will you provide basic information – how to register, key dates and reminders to vote – through a straightforward internal communications campaign? Will you personalize your campaign to your brand, with special touches like candidate forums (bipartisan), voter guides, voting captains across locations, or “I Voted” selfie stations or branded stickers? Will you extend your campaign to customers and other stakeholders? We recommend starting small and building over time – but even limited-scope efforts should be timely and in line with the energy of your brand.

3. Identify a partner or resource (e.g. local election officials, League of Women Voters, Common Cause, etc.) to ensure the information you share with employees is fact-based, accurate and current – and to learn what other companies are doing that you may want to mimic.

4. Determine whether or not to join a national movement, such as Time to Vote, Rock the Vote or Democracy Works. These national campaigns can be a source of information and inspiration – and lend credibility to your effort.

5. Focus on how to register and vote – not for whom to vote. While there may be moments when your company needs to take a stand on a partisan issue for business reasons and/or because it reinforces your corporate values, your get-out-the-vote efforts should remain purely non-partisan. Even the perception that you are telling employees who to vote for undermines your credibility and the sincerity of your efforts. And if you do take a stand on an issue, be sure you share your reasons with employees, like this example from Columbia Sportswear CEO Timothy Boyle.

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