Taking Time Off for Election Day

I got to my local polling place at 6:50 a.m. today, pretty pleased with myself for having the foresight to show up 10 whole minutes before the polls opened.

I knew I wouldn’t be the first in line. But, based on what I saw as I pulled into the parking lot, I’d say at least 150 to 200 of my fellow Harleysville, Pa., residents had thought much further ahead than I had.

As heartened as I was by the sight of democracy in action, I wasn’t as excited about standing in the line that snaked down the sidewalk outside of Oak Ridge Elementary School. Sub-40 degree temperatures and cranky back aside, my biggest worry was that I might wind up getting to work later than I had planned when I carefully mapped out my election day schedule last night.

Petty concerns on a day of this magnitude, to be sure. And I was actually able to wrap up my civic duty and get on my way to work in about 25 minutes. And, we have flexible schedules here at HRE headquarters anyway, so it really didn’t matter when I showed up at the office. I just didn’t want to feel like I was running behind all day long.

Some workers won’t face such dilemmas today.

As the Washington Post reports, a handful of companies including General Motors, Patagonia and Western Union are giving employees the day off so they can go vote. (Patagonia “is taking it a step further and closing its stores,” according to the Post.)

These organizations are among the 330 joining a Twitter campaign that maintains a running list of companies that offer employees time off in order to vote, according to the Post, which notes that the social media movement began this summer when venture capitalist Hunter Walk asked California-based start-up founders to provide employees with time off on election day.

Arlington, Va.-based Distil Networks is one of these companies. CEO Rami Essaid, 33, came to America from Syria at a young age and, with early help from government technology funding, founded Distil in 2011 and has since grown it to include a few hundred employees, the Post notes.

Coming from a country that’s currently wracked by civil war and a subsequent refugee crisis, the gravity of this election isn’t lost on Essaid. He tried to impress its importance on Distil employees in an impassioned, companywide email.

“Once every couple of years, we get a chance in the U.S. that many people around the world don’t ever get the opportunity to experience,” he wrote, “and that is to choose who will represent us nationally and globally.

“ … As a Syrian-American, I can’t take the opportunity to vote for granted and I ask that you don’t either,” continued Essaid. “On election day, DO NOT come to work UNTIL you vote.”

Essaid, who in an interview with the Post declined to express support for either candidate, told the paper that Distil is also sponsoring an election day happy hour for employees showing their “I voted” stickers.

Encouraging or even incentivizing employees to vote is one thing. Trying to influence who workers choose at the ballot box is quite another, of course. Reston, Va.-based technology company Canvas is treading lightly.

According to the Post, Canvas chief executive James Quigley has given all employees the day off today, “but not before he made them check their voter registrations online, handing out mobile devices for them to do so.”

While noting that Canvas employees are generally “aware of some company leaders’ [political] leanings,” Quigley also pointed out that he hasn’t “explicitly push[ed] employees” to vote for one candidate or another.

“Clearly we live in a very blue area, and the company in general has more of those values,” Quigley told the Post. “It was clear what some members of our senior staff thought, but we tried to be soft about pushing people one way or the other.”