The public health risks imposed by Covid-19 have made this fall’s general election unlike any in memory. Absentee ballots are surging with more than 80.5 million absentee ballots having already been requested or sent to voters nationwide.
As trusted voices and civic leaders, we believe that business leaders, along with policymakers and election officials, have an important non-partisan role to play to ensure that the election is widely seen as having been accessible, safe and fair. This is fundamental to the confidence Americans place in our democracy, and to the strength and vibrancy of our economy.
That is why we are among the more than 40 Trustees who recently endorsed the Committee for Economic Development of The Conference Board’s four actions business leaders can take to help achieve an accessible, safe and credible election. These concrete steps will help provide business leaders—from the CEOs of large firms to the owners of small enterprises—with opportunities to protect their employees, customers and communities while assisting in a successful, credible election.
We encourage our fellow business executives to consider supporting and enacting the following four recommendations:
1. Communicate new voting rules, options for voting and voting procedures to employees and customers, including providing reminders to help employees vote early.
Business leaders’ contributions need not be resource-intensive. At a time when getting accurate information to would-be voters is critical, businesses may be uniquely positioned to provide trusted, locally accurate information on voting options and voting procedures, including deadlines for registering to vote or requesting and returning absentee ballots. With the many changes owing to Covid-19, even providing up-to-date information on local polling locations and early voting hours could be an important community service.
2. Support other election needs, including through the donation of needed infrastructure, technology assistance, supplies and services.
Additionally, some businesses may be able to aid election officials through the donation of needed supplies, like personal protective equipment (PPE) or services such as printing capabilities. Such support would come at a time when resource-strapped election officials are trying to meet the changing physical requirements of holding an election during a pandemic.
3. Offer employees time off to serve as election volunteers.
Those same election officials are likely facing an unprecedented need for poll workers to successfully staff polling places this fall as they institute new pandemic-related procedures and many previous volunteers—including older Americans and those at higher risk from the virus—may need to sit this election out. Firms could help to meet this need by offering employees time off to serve as election volunteers or, if that is not affordable, providing protected unpaid leave for workers who are willing to volunteer, including during early voting.
4. Offer paid time off to help employees vote safely, including for early voting or to drop off absentee ballots.
Finally, perhaps the most critical public safety challenge of this election will be to reduce crowding at polling sites, protecting voters and election volunteers alike. To prevent surges in traffic at the most popular voting times on election day, employers should consider offering paid time off to help employees vote safely and flexibly at non-peak times, including for early voting or the dropping off of absentee ballots.
Many states and localities are resource-strapped by the public health demands and economic fallout of the pandemic. Moreover, many are facing issues of declining trust and widespread concern about the safety and fairness of the upcoming election. Given those challenges, the public sector has likely never been so in need of the critical assistance that the business community can lend to the election effort. For the health of our employees, our communities, and our democracy, we must rise to that challenge.