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Corporate America pushes employees to the polls

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With the midterms just hours away, it is crunch time for get-out-the-vote campaigns across the country. When you look at our voting record in midterm elections, those campaigns have a lot of work to do. Compared to the rest of the world, we Americans are historically terrible at voting. But it certainly doesn’t help that we make elections happen on a work day.

“In 2014, almost 36 percent of people who were eligible to vote said there was some conflict between work or school and voting,” said Dean Carter, vice president of human resources and shared services at Patagonia, the outdoor brand. “So we thought are we part of the problem?”

This year, Patagonia and more than three hundred companies are giving employees some paid time off to go vote. Patagonia is shutting its stores for the entire day, and others are trying to make Tuesday a little less of a drag. The Society for Human Resource Management says 44 percent of companies are giving workers paid time off on election day.

“We’ve already done a big calendar block on that day that reminds everybody get out to vote and blocks their calendars from other meetings,” says Anna Walker, senior director of global public affairs at Levi Strauss & Co., which is giving employees two to five hours off to vote, depending on their role. Walker says Levis employees have been telling the company they want to be more politically engaged.

While the companies say the effort is non-partisan, some companies have an interest in the outcome of the vote. Patagonia endorsed two Democrats running for Senate this year: Jon Tester in Montana and Jacky Rosen in Nevada.

Michael McFaul, a political scientist at Stanford, published a letter with fellow political scientist Adam Bonica encouraging companies and universities to provide paid time off for students and workers to vote. McFaul said hourly workers in the service sector, like retail employees, are the least likely to participate in elections, because they don’t have the flexibility of a banker or a professor.

“If you have kids and you’ve got to pick up or dinner to put on the table it’s actually hard to vote,” he said. “And so that creates resentment towards companies.”

Some states require companies to provide time off to vote, but there’s no federal law. McFaul says CEOs are best positioned to help improve voter turnout.

“Just give people a couple hours of time to vote,” he said. “They’ll feel good about America. They’ll feel good about their company and they’ll be more engaged in the political process.”

At his restaurant in Davis, California, Ali Moghaddam says he has gone over ballots with his staff before every election since 2008.

“After the lunch rush between like three to five where it’s kind of slow, I go over it with them.”

He also makes his staff get flu shots every year. And like a vaccine helps prevents others from catching the flu and missing work, Moghaddam says helping employees vote makes sense from a business perspective, too.

“You do this kind of thing not only is it good for your business,” he said. “It shows your co-workers that you care, and they end up appreciating and just being better workers for you.”

Moghaddam says he tends to lean libertarian and toward pro-business causes. But he says he tries to stay neutral when he helps his employees go to the polls.“For me it’s more of a personal thing,” he said. “I’m an immigrant. I come from Iran. I had a lot of activists in my family against the government, my uncle was jailed a bunch of times. So I take voting very seriously.”

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