Former U.S. President Donald Trump began circulating false claims about voter fraud long before election day in 2020. Since then, millions of his followers, influencers and allies in elected office have worked to amplify the “Big Lie” about voter fraud through a constant barrage of repetition. Fact-based corporate get-out-the-vote efforts like those of Levi Strauss can help cut through the noise, and they are needed now more than ever before.
Apparel maker Levi Strauss set a high bar for corporate get-out-the-vote (GOTV) activity during the 2020 election cycle. The company seemed to be aware, even back then, of warning signs that Trump would be the first president in U.S. history to refuse to participate in the peaceful transfer of power.
By 2020, the legalized suppression of Democratic-leaning voters had already been normalized in many states and local jurisdictions through onerous identification requirements, restrictions on voting by college students or inadequate provisions for polling locations.
Levi's may have also been alerted by the actions of newly confirmed Postmaster General Louis DeJoy. The election cycle of 2020 was already disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and DeJoy added to the confusion shortly after taking office in June of 2020, partly by carrying out changes in service without first obtaining the required permission from the Postal Regulatory Commission.
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Context is important. The Postal Regulatory Commission is an independent federal agency, but DeJoy was nominated to his office by the Postal Service Board of Governors, which by then was dominated by appointees of the Trump administration.
Some of the changes ordered by DeJoy, such as the removal of mail boxes and sorting machines, had been previously scheduled before the pandemic. However, DeJoy also altered delivery rules on his own initiative without approval from the Postal Regulatory Commission.
Last week, federal judge Emmett Sullivan ruled that the changes did not violate federal voting laws. However, he did find that the changes caused harm to states and localities by obstructing their efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and provide safe alternatives to in-person voting.
As reported by CNN, Judge Sullivan singled out the unapproved delivery rules as the primary factor impacting mail delivery after DeJoy took office, over and above the confusion caused by his other orders. “…the record evidence demonstrates that changes to and impacts on the USPS transportation schedule regarding late and extra trips were the primary factor in affecting service on a nationwide or substantially nationwide basis,” Sullivan determined.
With watchful eyes on the Postal Service, DeJoy is less likely to impose new changes shy of Election Day 2022. But waves of new state-based election regulations have swept through the U.S. after the failed insurrection of 2021, with an outsized impact on Democratic-leaning voters.
Among those voters are college students. Although college students generally have the right to register to vote through their college address, the Brennan Center for Justice notes that state and local authorities have thrown up numerous obstacles in their path.
As a partial solution, this year Levi Strauss has focused its get-out-the-vote efforts on community colleges, where students are more likely to reside off campus at a permanent address. On Sept. 15, the company announced a new voter registration drive covering 150 community college campuses in 40 states.
“This initiative will complement our broader efforts to reduce obstacles to civic participation through public awareness campaigns, employee and corporate engagement, advocacy and nonprofit support focused on organizations led by people of color and leaders working to advance equity,” the company explained on its “Unzipped” blog.
“Community colleges account for just over 40 percent of U.S. undergraduates, but historically see lower voter registration and voting rates than four-year universities,” the company said.
Levi Strauss is partnering with the organizations Campus Takeover and Students Learn Students Vote coalition. The company also highlighted National Voter Registration Day at Miami Dade Community College in Florida and Austin Community College District in Texas, in partnership with the organizations Engage Miami, MOVE Texas and Pizza to the Polls.
Levi Strauss cited Clarissa Unger, co-founder and executive director of the Students Learn Students Vote coalition, who said that “community colleges are home to some of the most diverse and representative student populations.”
“When community college students mobilize around elections and engage with our democracy, they drive community-wide change and we all benefit from the more vibrant electorate they create,” she added.
Corporate leaders who have suddenly become aware of the role they can play in voting rights are too late for National Voter Registration Day 2022. That came and went on Sept. 24.
However, it is not too late to encourage eligible citizens to register to vote. Almost half of U.S. states allow registration less than 30 days before election day. Some allow same-day registration, including the District of Columbia. Businesses that want to get involved can check their state’s registration deadline at usvotefoundation.org.
Meanwhile, there is still plenty of time to help ensure that all registered voters have a free and fair opportunity to cast their ballots. Businesses can start by following the Levi Strauss playbook.
The company continues to provide employees with paid time off to vote, in support the Time to Vote movement, which it co-founded.
Employees of Levi Strauss are also encouraged to volunteer at voter registration drives through a partnership with the organization Headcount, and to sign up as poll workers on election day. The company also continues to reach out to its employees with registration and polling place information.
Other partners of Levi’s include the ACLU Voting Right Project, Campus Takeover, Civic Alliance, Citizens and Scholars, Hunger Free America, Houston Justice and National Voter Registration Day.
The Levi Strauss message to other companies is a simple one. Business leaders do not have to reinvent the wheel or fly solo. Nonprofit civic participation organizations with seasoned, experienced staff are readily available to help them support voting rights.
That help is needed now more than ever, as the Big Lie continues to seep into the nuts-and-bolts of the election process.
Voting rights observers have already raised the alarm over the spread of the Big Lie poison into polling places and elections offices, raising the possibility that ordinary poll workers — many of whom are seniors — will be intimidated and disrupted by Big Lie voters, by other poll workers recruited by Big Lie amplifiers, or by random citizens threatening violence.
Danielle Samaniego, the editor of Levi’s “Unzipped” blog editor, alerted voters that they may encounter roadblocks when casting their ballots. “Election Day will not go perfectly. You may be discouraged. Obstacles will abound,” she wrote. "Vote anyway.”
Samaniego wrote those words back in August of 2020. Two years later, corporate leaders should be on a mission to stand firmly with their employees, and all other voters, as they exercise their right to vote in 2022.
Image credit: Janine Robinson via Unsplash
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.