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How Businesses Can Support a Safe, Accessible, and Secure Election

Election administrators face unprecedented challenges. Here’s how businesses can help fill the gap.

Voters wait to vote at the Kentucky Exposition Center.
Brett Carlsen/Getty

Novem­ber’s general elec­tion will pose unpre­ced­en­ted oper­a­tional and admin­is­trat­ive chal­lenges given high anti­cip­ated turnout, disrup­tions caused by Covid-19, and an economic crisis that has triggered signi­fic­ant budget short­falls in nearly every state, county, and muni­cip­al­ity. The Bren­nan Center has estim­ated that state and local elec­tion admin­is­trat­ors need roughly $3.6 billion to make the adjust­ments needed to run a safe, secure, access­ible, and healthy elec­tion during the pandemic. Unfor­tu­nately, Congress has thus far failed to appro­pri­ate the funds needed to safely admin­is­ter the elec­tion, effect­ively abdic­at­ing its respons­ib­il­ity to protect the basic found­a­tions of our demo­cracy.

While congres­sional support is still badly needed before Novem­ber, at this point, ensur­ing elec­tions in which all voters can cast a secure ballot without jeop­ard­iz­ing their health will require a coordin­ated effort from all sectors of soci­ety.

The busi­ness community in partic­u­lar can lever­age its resources and influ­ence to help ensure that voters have access to safe voting options and that state and local admin­is­trat­ors are prepared for Novem­ber.

Support Employ­ees’ Voting Rights

There are several crit­ical steps busi­nesses can and should take to support their employ­ees’ abil­ity to safely and securely exer­cise their right to vote this Novem­ber.

  • Paid time off to vote: Most directly, busi­nesses should give their employ­ees paid time off to vote, whether to cast an early or a mail-in ballot before Elec­tion Day or to go to a polling place on Novem­ber 3. A grow­ing number of employ­ers have joined Time to Vote, a nonpar­tisan coali­tion of more than 600 compan­ies, led by busi­nesses includ­ing Levi Strauss and Patago­nia, whose members pledge to ensure that all of their employ­ees have time avail­able to cast their ballots. 
  • Voter regis­tra­tion: Employ­ers should encour­age their staff to register to vote, includ­ing by provid­ing inform­a­tion from the relev­ant state and local elec­tion admin­is­trat­ors on how to register and on dead­lines and other require­ments. When feas­ible, employ­ers should encour­age on-site voter regis­tra­tion drives. Busi­nesses can part­ner with National Voter Regis­tra­tion Day to support voter regis­tra­tion both within and beyond their work­places.
  • Voter educa­tion: Busi­nesses should also provide their employ­ees with inform­a­tion on the options for voting in their juris­dic­tions, which may include voting by mail, early in-person voting, and voting in person on Elec­tion Day. The inform­a­tion provided should come from offi­cial govern­ment sources, such as state and county boards of elec­tions. (Their websites are collated here.) Exist­ing coali­tions, such as the Civic Alli­ance and Elec­tionDay.org, provide addi­tional resources. This inform­a­tion is crit­ical, as many citizens are not aware of the options avail­able to them to vote safely during the pandemic. The elec­tion has already been targeted by disin­form­a­tion campaigns waged by domestic and foreign actors. Employ­ers can help counter the misin­form­a­tion being spread online by serving as trus­ted sources of accur­ate inform­a­tion on how to vote.

Crit­ic­ally, all inform­a­tion and mater­i­als provided to employ­ees on how to register and options for voting must come from nonpar­tisan sources. Any attempt to influ­ence who employ­ees vote for can create the impres­sion that the employer is trying to put inap­pro­pri­ate pres­sure on its employ­ees and may viol­ate federal and state laws.

Support Custom­ers’ Voting Rights

Busi­nesses that inter­face directly with the public should also take steps to assist their custom­ers in exer­cising their right to vote.

  • Voter educa­tion: Busi­nesses should make accur­ate inform­a­tion avail­able to their custom­ers on how to register to vote and cast a ballot. Retail­ers might post prin­ted guid­ance, similar to that provided to their employ­ees, at their phys­ical loca­tions. Links to relev­ant govern­ment websites (which can be found here) can also be included on company and consumer websites. In July, for example, Face­book pinned voter regis­tra­tion inform­a­tion on voting-age U.S. users’ news feeds in the hope of help­ing 4 million people register to vote.
  • Combat­ing disin­form­a­tion: Compan­ies that sell online advert­ising have a special respons­ib­il­ity to ensure that the public is accur­ately informed about elec­tion proced­ures, espe­cially as rules may change in response to outbreaks of Covid-19. Such compan­ies should commit to take down any posts on their plat­forms that include false inform­a­tion about voting rules and take other steps to proact­ively counter disin­form­a­tion spread online. Both Twit­ter and Face­book have announced such efforts to fight misin­form­a­tion about voting proced­ures.

As with commu­nic­a­tions to employ­ees, it is crit­ical that all inform­a­tion and resources provided be completely nonpar­tisan and not seek to influ­ence who custom­ers or the broader public vote for.

Support Elec­tion Admin­is­trat­ors With In-Kind and Monet­ary Contri­bu­tions

Our nation’s elec­tion offi­cials face an unpre­ced­en­ted crisis. The contin­ued effects of the Covid-19 pandemic create the risk of systemic elec­tion admin­is­tra­tion fail­ures before, during, and after Elec­tion Day. Without a substan­tial infu­sion of resources, mail-in votes may not be processed, received, or coun­ted on time; voters may face long lines at the polls; results may not be repor­ted for many weeks after Elec­tion Day; and the elec­tion as a whole might be dele­git­im­ized in the eyes of many follow­ing chaos and conflict­ing reports.

Cash-strapped elec­tion offi­cials have begged Congress for funds to prevent these prob­lems and prepare for a pandemic elec­tion — with the support of public health offi­cialsnational secur­ity lead­erselec­tion expertsbusi­ness lead­ersveter­ans, and civil rights groups — and yet Congress has thus far only appro­pri­ated a small frac­tion of the resources they need. With the elec­tion around the corner, elec­tion admin­is­trat­ors simply cannot wait for Congress to take steps to revamp and expand early and mail voting while also ensur­ing that polling places are safe and access­ible for those who will vote in person. But since many do not have the resources to do so, it is crit­ical that the private sector step up to support state and local elec­tion admin­is­trat­ors so that they can offer safe, access­ible, secure, and fair elec­tions.

  • Enable employ­ees to serve as poll work­ers: One easy way for busi­nesses to assist their local elec­tion admin­is­trat­ors is to encour­age their employ­ees to volun­teer as poll work­ers on Elec­tion Day if they can do so safely. While many juris­dic­tions are offer­ing expan­ded vote by mail in response to the pandemic, millions of voters will still vote in person on Elec­tion Day. But the coronavirus has produced a crisis in poll worker recruit­ment. Even before the pandemic, 70 percent of juris­dic­tions struggled to recruit poll work­ers, who tend to be elderly and at high risk of Covid-19. Now states across the coun­try are report­ing high absentee rates and short­ages of tens of thou­sands of work­ers, which contrib­uted to unac­cept­ably long lines during primary elec­tions earlier this year. Private employ­ers can play a crit­ical role in prevent­ing similar prob­lems in Novem­ber. For example, the Civic Alli­ance, a nonpar­tisan group of busi­nesses, is work­ing to recruit 250,000 new poll work­ers in advance of the general elec­tion. At a minimum, busi­nesses should facil­it­ate their employ­ees’ volun­teer­ing by offer­ing paid time off for any employee who chooses to do so.
  • Donate facil­it­ies for polling places: Busi­nesses can also donate their facil­it­ies for use as in-person polling places if they have appro­pri­ate spaces avail­able. Because of the pandemic, many tradi­tional polling loca­tions, such as schools and retire­ment homes, are not avail­able for use. Private busi­nesses, espe­cially those with large and well-vent­il­ated facil­it­ies, can help fill the gap by making their build­ings avail­able on Elec­tion Day, prefer­ably at no cost to elec­tion admin­is­trat­ors. Several have already done so. Every NBA fran­chise, for example, has offered their arena for use as a polling place. Any donated facil­it­ies should meet published guidelines for healthy in-person voting, includ­ing having enough space for social distan­cing, multiple entrances and exits, easy access via park­ing or public trans­port­a­tion, and adequate HVAC systems.
  • Donate facil­it­ies for ballot stor­age or count­ing: Even if busi­nesses do not have facil­it­ies appro­pri­ate for use as polling places, they can still donate build­ings with adequate vent­il­a­tion and space for social distan­cing for stor­ing and count­ing ballots.
  • Donate key supplies, includ­ing PPE: The private sector can also support local elec­tion admin­is­trat­ors who have the capa­city to accept direct dona­tions of personal protect­ive equip­ment and other supplies for elec­tion work­ers. For example, Anheuser-Busch is donat­ing hand sanit­izer to polling loca­tions across the coun­try.
  • Part­ner with state or local govern­ments by donat­ing funds for elec­tion admin­is­tra­tion: If Congress contin­ues to aban­don its respons­ib­il­ity to protect our elec­tions, the private sector should be prepared to help close the fund­ing gap by giving money for use by state and local elec­tion offi­cials. While the abil­ity of state offi­cials to accept and spend such dona­tions varies, many can do so, and dona­tions also can gener­ally be accep­ted at the local level. In fact, several nonprofit organ­iz­a­tions have already set up programs to direct dona­tions to local govern­ments in need of support. Dona­tions should be routed to juris­dic­tions with the most need on a strictly nonpar­tisan basis, to be spent solely at the direc­tion of elec­tion offi­cials. There are many ways to go about doing so. One approach is to work with an organ­iz­a­tion that has commit­ted to distrib­ut­ing funds at the direc­tion of an expert, bipar­tisan board of advisers, prefer­ably one that includes current or former elec­tion offi­cials and other experts.
  • Provide special­ized support for elec­tion admin­is­tra­tion func­tions: Private entit­ies with special­ized skills relev­ant to elec­tion admin­is­tra­tion can part­ner with state or local govern­ments to provide in-depth and tailored support to elec­tion admin­is­trat­ors, such as assist­ance with poll worker train­ing or public educa­tion on new voting proced­ures. Hamilton County, Ohio, for instance, works with local busi­nesses to recruit and train poll work­ers. Specific options will vary by loca­tion. Again, it is crit­ical that any such programs be organ­ized and admin­istered on strictly nonpar­tisan lines.