Companies Recruit 350,000 Poll Workers for U.S. Election
By Anne Steele
Big employers including Gap Inc.'s Old Navy, Target Corp. and
Warby Parker are telling employees they can take paid time off to
volunteer as election workers this fall as they aim to help solve a
national poll-worker shortage and offer workers a way to find a
sense of purpose.
Power the Polls, an initiative to recruit low-risk poll workers
to staff in-person voting locations on Election Day and during
early voting in October, has joined with more than 70 companies,
including Starbucks Corp. and Patagonia, to connect people who want
to volunteer during the election with counties that offer training.
Last week the Civic Alliance, the group behind the campaign, said
it surpassed its goal of recruiting 250,000 volunteer poll workers
through its corporate partnerships and now has more than 350,000
people signed on to help with the election.
Elections experts estimate that 460,000 poll workers will be
needed this year because the coronavirus pandemic could keep home
many older Americans, who often serve as poll workers. Nearly 60%
of U.S. poll workers were over the age of 60 in the 2018 general
election, with nearly 30% over 70, according to a Pew Research
Center report. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
considers seniors to be at higher risk for severe illness from the
virus, with eight out of every 10 deaths involving adults 65 or
The new effort comes as civic activists are tapping American
corporations to help boost voter turnout in a highly contentious
election year when voter registration has hit a record low and
citizens will be voting on more days -- and in more ways -- than
ever before. It also comes in the midst of a broader racial and
social reckoning that is pressuring some companies to show a deeper
commitment to social engagement.
Time To Vote, a corporate coalition that encourages companies to
give paid time off to employees so they can vote, launched in the
summer of 2018. It had roughly 400 companies signed on by the start
of the midterm elections. Today more than 800 companies have
pledged to give their employees paid time off to vote.
About half of the states in the U.S. require some amount of time
off for employees to vote in elections, according to Workplace
Fairness, a policy institute. The U.S. lags behind most highly
developed democracies in getting people to the polls. Even though
voter turnout hit a 100-year midterm election high in 2018, only
half of the eligible population cast a ballot that year, according
to a Pew Research Center study.
Patagonia, the California-based clothing and outdoors outfitter,
a founder of Time To Vote, began hearing earlier this year from
election offices that there would be a severe shortage in poll
workers because most are in the older, higher-risk demographic for
"There's a really positive trend in corporate America to
recognize that companies should do more than make products or
provide services and have a role in taking care of their
communities," said Corley Kenna, a spokeswoman for Patagonia. "A
lot of Americans still don't vote and voting can be complicated --
this year that's especially true -- and we think the private sector
can play a really meaningful role."
Staffing polling locations is just one of the challenges
companies are rallying to address during this year's election
season. Companies are also disseminating information about how and
where to vote, donating personal protective equipment for use at
election sites and, in some cases, offering their own buildings as
physical locations for voting and ballot drop boxes when
traditional locations such as senior centers and schools aren't
available this year, said Steven Levine, director of Civic
Alliance, a coalition of companies that have committed to
supporting employee and consumer engagement.
Advocates for more corporate-backed voter education cite a range
of factors that increase the need for such information. Those
include a push by many states to expand access to mail-in voting,
efforts to encourage more early in-person voting to prevent long
lines on Election Day, and lower new-voter registration nationwide
caused in part by the coronavirus-driven closure of departments of
motor vehicles, where many sign up to vote while renewing driver's
licenses, according to Mr. Levine.
"Companies are going to be looked to as trusted sources of info
to provide employees and consumers with guidance," Mr. Levine
Companies encouraging their employees to volunteer as poll
workers -- and some offering paid time off to do it -- include
Salesforce.com Inc., Microsoft Corp., Levi Strauss & Co., Uber
Technologies Inc. and Blue Apron Holdings Inc. Meanwhile, ViacomCBS
Inc.'s Comedy Central and Snap Inc.'s Snapchat are working to
mobilize their large, young audiences to get involved.
Target has for years given paid time off to vote. This year it
joined with the League of Women Voters Education Fund to create a
website with information about the voting process, including how to
register to vote and what is on the ballot. It's also giving
employees paid time off to volunteer at the polls.
"We've seen such a groundswell of interest from companies in
leaning further in," said Nora Gilbert, director of partnerships
for nonpartisan voter-assistance organization Vote.org. "There's
this reckoning happening in racial and social justice, and there's
more scrutiny on companies to walk the walk. This is a way for them
to thread the needle and show a deeper commitment to civic
A Harvard Kennedy School case study found that efforts from
companies during the 2018 midterm elections not only increased
voter participation but also benefited business.
"In the past it was seen as a corporate risk to engage in
discussion around democracy," said Sofia Gross, public-policy
manager at Snap and one of the authors of the report. "It's become
more normalized, and not doing something around democracy is seen
as a risk now."
Write to Anne Steele at Anne.Steele@wsj.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
September 06, 2020 05:44 ET (09:44 GMT)
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