Outdoor clothing and gear company Patagonia will shut down its entire operations for today, Election Day, to encourage employees and the general public to exercise their right to vote. The company’s headquarters in Ventura, California; its customer service and distribution care enter in Reno, Nevada; and all of its retail stores across the U.S. are closed today.
Patagonia’s decision to close down is part of the company’s Vote Our Planet Initiative, which aims to motivate citizens to vote with the environment in mind during federal, state and local elections. The company claims to have spent over $1 million on approximately 60 events across 29 stores this election season. This year, in addition to its hiking pants, parkas and backpacking equipment, customers could also find information on environmental issues and voter registration materials. Patagonia also made its case for more environmental activism through its YouTube channel as well as through a social media campaign, #VoteOurPlanet.
The company has managed non-partisan environmental campaigns during election seasons since 2004. But according to one local California television station, this is the first time Patagonia has given its employees the day off to vote. Workers interviewed for the station’s report indicated they would use their day off to go to the polls.
Patagonia is also aligned with Take Off Election Day, an initiative started by several technology firms that encourages companies to give their employees the day off so they can vote. Major sponsors of this campaign include Spotify, SurveyMonkey, Western Union, Salon and Task Rabbit. As of press time, over 330 companies said they will let workers to skip work today in order to vote.
These companies’ decision is important for several reasons. The U.S. is one of few democracies to hold elections on a workday; most countries conduct voting on weekends, generally on Sunday. A few countries, such as South Korea, have elections during the week, but that day is required by law to be a holiday. Despite the U.S. being an outlier when it comes to voting, do not expect Election Day scheduling to change any time soon, as the Constitution mandates federal elections must be held on the first Tuesday following the first Monday of November.
Furthermore, federal law makes no provisions mandating that employers grant workers time off if they wish to vote. That decision has been left largely to the states, with few requiring businesses to let employees vote without losing pay. The rise of absentee ballots has made it easier to vote in this rigid system, however; California is one of 37 states where citizens can vote by absentee ballot permanently, without documenting any excuse such as a business trip or illness.
But in many southern and northeastern states, including New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Mississippi and Alabama, early voting is hardly easy, as an excuse is required to vote absentee. Voting online is on the rise, but that privilege is generally only reserved for military service members and overseas residents. In Colorado, Oregon and Washington, voting is done entirely by mail. Oregon, the first state to launch all-mail voting in 1998, says it has one of the highest voter participation rates in the U.S. because of the ease of this system.
Despite some progress, largely due to technology, the U.S. is actually moving backward when it comes to voting rights. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, 14 states have made it more difficult to vote in recent years, due largely to imposed identification requirements, curtailed early voting and a more restrictive voter registration process. Many of these new voting laws, which led to the Supreme Court overturning much of the Voting Rights Act, stem from a fabricated story that voter fraud is on the rise despite the overwhelming evidence suggesting that such fears are over-hyped. In fact, the highest profile case of “voter fraud” this election season was a Donald Trump supporter voting twice in Iowa.
Trump’s braying that this year is a “rigged election” (unless the polls are wrong and today’s election is in his favor) has fanned the flames of voter intimidation. Hence, the fact that companies including Patagonia are giving their employees a day off to vote is an important move so that America’s democratic ideals still allow everyone to have their voice in today’s election, regardless of ideology, job status, race or voting history.
Image credit: Patagonia/Facebook
Leon Kaye has written for TriplePundit since 2010, and became its Executive Editor in 2018. He's based in Fresno, CA, from where he happily explores California’s stellar Central Coast and the national parks in the Sierra Nevadas. He's lived in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay, and has traveled to over 70 countries. He's an alum of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California.