Tech Companies Are Making Election Day a Holiday
March, Slack engineer Erica Baker fired off a quick series of tweets about the upcoming presidential election.
“Ok VCs, CEOs, and company decision makers who follow me. Start planning now to make November 8 a day off. We need people to be able to vote,” Baker wrote, adding, “The fact that Election Day isn’t a national holiday is in and of itself an act of voter suppression.” Although the election was still months away, the idea took off, and dozens of tech companies agreed over the course of the summer to make Election Day a holiday for employees.
Among those who answered Baker’s call is Hunter Walk, a partner at the venture capital firm Homebrew. In mid-July, Walk tweeted about putting a reminder on his calendar to go vote and suggested that CEOs block out time on their employees’ calendars too. Ben Lerer, the founder of Thrillist, responded that his employees would be given the day off, as would those of the mattress manufacturer and self-proclaimed “sleep startup” Casper.
Other CEOs chimed in, and Walk began gathering a list of companies that are making Election Day a holiday. More than 180 companies have since signed on to participate, and Walk is calling for more to join using the hashtag #TakeOffElectionDay. Small startups and large corporations alike have agreed to give employees the day off, including Square and Twilio.
Tech companies tend to be a bit shy about entering the political sphere, but Walk says the industry shouldn’t be perceived as apolitical.
“Over 20 years, I’ve seen people question whether tech and specifically tech in San Francisco and Silicon Valley wants to get involved in the issues around them or just put their heads down and build apps,” Walk said. “To me, it’s always been clear that there are lot of folks who do care about the city, do care about the country.”
Of course, tech industry leaders aren’t the first to suggest that Americans shouldn’t have to work on Election Day.
Elections are traditionally held on Tuesdays because farmers in early agrarian America needed time to travel to and from the polls that didn’t conflict with market and worship days. But in modern urban society, our elections have long been plagued by low voter turnout. Activists believe this is due in part to the fact that workers can’t leave their jobs to go to the polls, and that moving Election Day to a weekend or making it a holiday would improve turnout. During the 2012 presidential contest that pitted Barack Obama against Mitt Romney, only 57.5 percent of eligible voters showed up to the polls, and, although the 2016 primaries saw nearly record-high turnout, it’s likely that 40 percent of eligible Americans won’t cast a vote for president this November. It’s a stark contrast to countries like Australia, where voting is compulsory and citizens face fines if they don’t fill out their ballots.
Non-profit organizations like Why Tuesday have spent nearly a decade lobbying for an election holiday, and Congress has made several attempts to change Election Day to make it more accessible for all voters. Most recently, Senator Bernie Sanders introduced legislation last year that would make Election Day a national holiday — but GovTrack rates the bill as having a zero percent chance of success. Even support from President Obama, who has advocated for making Election Day a holiday or moving it to a weekend, hasn’t been enough to create change.
“We are the only advanced democracy that makes it deliberately difficult for people to vote,” Obama said in May. “Our democracy is not going to function well when only half or a third of eligible voters are participating.”
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