We write as concerned political scientists and voting rights experts to urge leaders at all companies, non-governmental organizations, and universities to give their employees, including part-time and hourly, paid time off to vote on Election Day.
Voter turnout in the United States is among the lowest in the world. In the 2014 midterm elections, 33 percent of the voting age population turned out to vote, setting the record for the lowest turnout of any national election in any advanced democracy since 1945. There are many reasons why so few Americans vote but among them is that the US is one of the few countries that hold elections on a workday.
We call on colleges and universities to cancel classes on November 6th to give students time to vote, volunteer and participate in the democratic process. Only one in five students reported having voted in the 2014 midterm elections. Canceling classes on Election Day would send a message that voting is important and should be a priority. On this one day, instead of preparing for the future, students should be taking part in deciding it.
We call on businesses, non-governmental organizations, and other major employers to give workers at least four hours of paid time off on November 6th. Time constraints due to scheduling conflicts with work and school are the most commonly cited reasons for not voting. Finding time to vote during a workday imposes a significant burden that disproportionately affects workers who are paid hourly and have less flexible hours. This is a fundamentally unfair way to conduct elections. In the future, we hope that the federal government will declare Election Day as a national holiday or hold elections during the weekend, as many other countries do. In the meantime, giving workers paid time off to vote will significantly reduce these unequally distributed burdens and ensure everyone is afforded the time they need to vote.
We believe it is important for citizens to understand what is at stake and their vote does matter. Voters face many stark choices in November, and as with any election, decisions will be made that could determine the direction of the country for generations to come. The legitimacy of our democracy depends not just on people having equal rights to vote, but on equal opportunities to vote, and on having representatives chosen by a representative set of citizens.
We understand that our recommendation will impose costs on businesses. At a time of record earnings and strong economic growth, however, we are asking employers and educators to consider our recommendation as an act of patriotism. To help all Americans participate in a most sacred American civic act is an honorable thing to do. In response to those companies who refuse to allow their workers time off on Election Day, we call upon consumers to hold companies to account for putting profit before the health of our democracy.
There is consensus among political scientists, supported by empirical research, that democracy is the best system of government and that democracies perform better when more people vote. Now more than ever, we believe that more Americans need to participate in our democratic process. The less people feel disenfranchised and disconnected from our government, the better.
Giving people time off to vote is something we as citizens can do for each other. We already have witnessed a historic surge in civic engagement as record numbers of people have run for elected office, participated in mass protests, attended political rallies, and registered to vote. Voter enthusiasm, among both parties, is at record levels for midterm elections. We owe it to each other to ensure that none of us is made to choose between voting and earning a paycheck, missing a lecture, or picking up their children on time from daycare.
We encourage employers to follow the lead of Levi Strauss, Lyft, Patagonia, and hundreds of other companies that have already pledged to do the right thing for their employees and our democracy and sign up at http://electionday.org/add-company. We encourage faculty at colleges and universities to do the right thing for their students by canceling classes on Election Day and asking others to do so as well. And we encourage employees, students, and consumers to organize for a fairer, more accessible democracy.