Companies Join In Nonpartisan Effort to Boost Elections Participation

July 17, 2020 by Dan McCue
Over 100,000 mail-in ballots were rejected by election officials in California's March 2020 presidential primary, highlighting a glaring gap in the effort to ensure every vote is counted as a national dispute rages over the integrity of vote-by-mail elections. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)

WASHINGTON – More than 100 U.S. companies, including Microsoft, Estee Lauder and Target have committed to engage in nonpartisan efforts to bolster participation by their employees and customers in the 2020 elections.

The initiative, called the Civic Alliance, was founded by the CAA Foundation and Democracy Works in January, to promote the idea that active participation in democracy is good for business and that an involved and interested business community is good for democracy.

Initially, the Alliance’s goal was to build a nonpartisan coalition of companies who agreed to take steps to get their constituencies to the polls, regardless of political affiliation, and to work to ensure Americans in general understood and therefore had more faith in the electoral process.

After the coronavirus took hold in mid-February, the Alliance recognized additional ways companies can help support the electoral process.

These included addressing the sudden shortage of poll workers willing and able to work during the pandemic, and the need to educate voters about new options for participation, including mail-in voting in communities in which it wasn’t previously available.

“We started with two dozen companies that made commitments to support civic engagement among their employees or their customers or both, and now we’re well over 100 companies and counting.”

“What it’s all about is getting companies to work together to support the faith and trust in elections and really inspire every American to participate in shaping our country’s future,” said Civic Alliance Director Steven Levine earlier this week.

“What’s been particularly exciting is the extraordinary increase in interest among companies,” Levine added. “It’s really something of a civic Renaissance.”

The initiative reached a new milestone last month with the Civic Alliance Virtual Summit, an event at which participants shared their experiences in promoting engagement and ways they can help drive up voter participation in everything from November’s presidential election to local school board races.

Taking stock of what he heard during the event, Levine said he believes companies across the spectrum of industries have come to see electoral engagement differently than they had in the past.

“It used to always be looked at from the perspective of issue areas, things Americans were passionate about,” he said. “Companies may have wanted to be supportive of their employees and customers, but the concern was that if they took a position on one side or the other, it would be detrimental to the business.

“At the same time, companies were consistently seeing polling that found the vast majority of Americans want to work for an employer that supports civic engagement and over 80% of consumers want to patronize a business encouraging that engagement.

“Finally, companies realized there is a way to do this, and that is, to empower each of us, as Americans, to make our own decisions and influence the future of the company,” Levine said.

“It’s no longer a matter of we, the corporation, having to take a side; by encouraging employees and customers to vote, what they’re saying is, ‘We trust you. We want you to set the rules and shape the rules for the country that we are living in.’”

Levine went on to say the coronavirus pandemic has only served to make the corporation’s role promoting civic engagement more critical.

“I believe the pandemic has changed things in three distinct ways,” he said. “The first is voter registration. As you know, most new voter registration in this country is now handled through the department of motor vehicles.

“With these departments shuttered in most states in April and May, we saw a dramatic drop off in new voters,” Levine continued. “Our partner organization, National Voter Registration Day estimates we’re down 2 million new voter registrations during this same time period in 2016.”

In response, Levine said, the Alliance is working with companies to raise the awareness of voters and prospective voters alike, while encouraging all Americans to register.

“We’re also reminding those who are already registered to check their registration to make sure the current address is listed for them. With so many people voting by mail for the first time this year, we want to make sure they are ready to do that.”

Levine said the second impact of the pandemic has been a heightening of the need for up-to-date voter education, “because voting is going to look a lot different this year for many millions of people.

“This has created a need, frankly, to educate voters of every stripe, because there is going to be a lot more voting-by-mail this year, and in some places, polling places will be in different locations, because former sites, like senior centers and schools , are not open during this election cycle ,” he said.

Along with these efforts, he said, corporations will need to play a key role in managing the expectations of employees and others, “because it’s quite possible we won’t know who won the presidential election and other electoral contests on Nov. 3.

“With the number of changes that have occurred and the proliferation of mail-in voting, it’s likely we won’t know the outcome of race for days,” he said.

The third and perhaps most profound way the pandemic has impacted Election Day is it has created a nationwide shortage of poll workers. That’s because traditionally most poll workers are 60 or older, which corresponds exactly to the age group most at risk of contracting the virus.

“Many election officials have estimated that we will need to recruit upwards of 500,000 new poll workers,” Levine said. “So there’s a real need to recruit a new, younger, more diverse generation of poll workers to ensure that polling places can open and wait times at those that are open aren’t terrible.”

As Levine spoke, The Atlanta Hawks basketball team was converting its home court, the State Farm Arena, into a venue for early voting and other election operations such as training 300 arena staffers to serve as poll workers. The team is also striving to ensure that Atlanta voters have access to this arena to vote on Election Day.

“[The Hawks] are setting an extraordinary example and I’m excited to say other sports teams and stadiums are taking notice and making offers to their respective cities to do the same,” he said.

One new initiative launched at the recent virtual summit was a corporate mentorship program so that companies like the Atlanta Hawks and other veterans of the nonpartisan election support community can share their experience and program know-how with newer members.

“We currently have 12 civic mentors who have led initiatives like this for at least one election cycle, and we’re matching them up with companies that are doing this for the first time,” Levine said.

“What we’ve found is that as companies move into this space, the employees who will run their program have a lot of questions,” he said. “They want to know, for instance, how you ensure you remain nonpartisan over the course of an election cycle, and how you deal with questions you receive from your leadership, as well as employees and consumers.

“We see this new mentorship opportunity as a great opportunity for our older and more experienced members to share their memories and provide an awful lot of sound advice,” Levine said.

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