The 2018 midterm elections saw a tsunami of support for Democratic candidates, and an organization called Business for America (BFA) is determined to repeat the performance in 2020 — only not necessarily for Democrats, as the case may be. The coalition’s get-out-the-vote effort is a strictly nonpartisan approach to the democratic process. BFA has made a solid, bottom line case for corporate leaders to step up and ensure that their employees can exercise their voting rights and participate in the General Election on November 3, including voting by mail, regardless of their political affiliation.
Business for America CEO and founder Sarah Bonk comes to the nonpartisan get-out-the-vote effort with a background in corporate strategy and communications for Apple and other Fortune 500 companies, in addition to pro bono work in the field of nonpartisan political reform.
BFA reflects Bonk’s focus on democracy as a nonpartisan affair. The BFA coalition is “dedicated exclusively to mobilizing the business community to help advance popular, bipartisan political reforms and technology solutions that strengthen representative democracy.”
BFA also coordinates with the Time to Vote campaign, which launched ahead of the 2018 election cycle.
Time to Vote mustered approximately 400 companies representing 2 million workers in a get-out-the-vote effort for the 2018 elections. The campaign focused on urging employers to provide paid time off for voting.
For 2020, BFA and Time to Vote already have 600 corporate supporters toward a goal of 1,000 participants.
Best Buy, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Farmers Insurance, Gap Inc., Glossier Inc., Hewlett Packard Enterprise, JPMorgan Chase & Co., Kaiser Permanente, Levi Strauss & Co., Lyft, PayPal, Patagonia, REI Co-op, Target, VF Corporation, Walmart and Warby Parker are among many other leading employers that have already signed on to Time to Vote.
They argue that nonpartisan get-out-the-vote activities are part and parcel of the corporate social responsibility movement, which has proven to provide businesses with a strong platform for growth in the 21st century.
“It's our duty as members of the business community to take action to safeguard the democratic process,” they write. “This basic level of civic engagement is also expected by our employees and consumers."
From that premise, they argue that employers have a specific duty to ensure civic participation by their employees, just as they have a duty to ensure health, safety, and other foundational needs.
Bonk, Gilboa and Blumenthal also call out business leaders individually by reminding them that their success is a direct consequence of the American civic infrastructure.
“We have a responsibility to preserve the system of democratic governance that allowed us to dream big and start our own enterprises in this country,” they argue. “A stable democracy benefits employees, customers, business and society.”
As for the upcoming General Election, Bonk, Gilboa and Blumenthal take note of the COVID-19 crisis. They argue that business leaders have a civic duty to step in where national policy has failed to provide states with the resources need to ensure voting rights
Noting a recent Pew Research poll, two-thirds of Americans were expecting that the pandemic would disrupt the presidential election, adding, “Too many states are under-resourced to hold safe elections under current circumstances.”
Bonk, Gilboa and Blumenthal outline three general actions that employers can take to help ensure that their employees can participate, starting with providing time off — and paid time off at that — to vote, and to participate as poll workers.
The guidance also includes providing employees with information on local polling locations and additional localized voter information.
Encouraging employees to register to vote is the third action step. Warby Parker has adopted a particularly strong approach by incorporating voter registration into its onboarding process.
Bonk, Gilboa and Blumenthal also specifically exhort business leaders to respond to the COVID-19 crisis by providing direct support in the form of protective equipment, poll workers, and additional resources. To cite one leading example, the Los Angeles Dodgers and one of the team’s star players, David Price, have teamed up with LeBron James’s More than a Vote campaign to make Dodger Stadium a polling site that provides for more social distance than typical polling places.
The big question is whether or not business leaders can make a difference in voter participation, and the proof may be in the pudding.
Credit for the massive Democratic wave of 2018 lies in many hands, but shortly after the results rolled in CNBC reported a consensus opinion that “demographic change, Democratic mobilization and disaffection with President Donald Trump” were the three main factors.
The 2018 sea change took place during a time of economic prosperity (by some measurements). Today, with the COVID-19 crisis spiraling out of control and a fresh scandal erupting over interference with the U.S. Mail, the disaffection and motivation factors are all but certain to outperform its role.
Bonk, Gilboa, and Blumenthal also take note of the demographic factors.
To be clear, they note that the problem of voter participation transcends race and ethnicity, with “many unnecessary barriers that prevent eligible citizens from fully participating in our democratic process.”
They also warn that the 2020 primary elections saw “fewer open locations and poll worker shortages resulted in overcrowded, unsafe conditions and long lines to vote."
However, they also highlight the racial and ethnic disparities that get in the way of voting rights.
“Black and Hispanic Americans were more likely than White Americans to face challenges getting the time off from work to vote. And other barriers to voting — such as voter identification requirements and voter registration restrictions — continue to disproportionately impact communities of color,” they write.
All else being equal, increased voter turnout in communities of color would benefit all candidates regardless of their political affiliation.
Nevertheless, voter preferences have clearly broken down along race and ethnic lines, with no sign of repair in sight.
If BFA and Time to Vote helped to make a difference in the 2018 election cycle, it will be interesting to see how the campaign’s growing corporate support for voting rights pans out on November 3, 2020.
After all, as Bonk, Gilboa and Blumenthal point out, “informed, engaged citizens and employees are good for business and our country.”
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Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes. She is currently Deputy Director of Public Information for the County of Union, New Jersey. Views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect agency policy.