American companies make Time to Vote

Abby Meyers, 19, stands outside Patagonia Store in Newbury Street, Boston, and reads the Time to Vote sign on the front door. Boston, Mass., October 31. Photo credit Gaia De Simoni

By Gaia De Simoni

gaiadesi@bu.edu

October 31, 2018

Boston, Mass. – Walking by on Newbury Street one cannot help but notice. It is white, with big black writing. People hurrying in the routine of their days, turn back to glance. But not Abby Meyers, 19, who stops to read before entering the store.

“When the polls open, we close,” says the poster on the front door of Patagonia.

The poster is part of a non-partisan campaign joined by more than hundreds of companies all over the United States.

“It is pretty clear, and we get many customers commenting on that, and they are really excited about the campaign. They are like, ‘This is amazing, I am really happy you guys are doing that,’” said Maya Spencer, 26, store manager at Patagonia Boston.

Last summer, Patagonia CEO Rose Marcario and Levi & Strauss Co. CEO Chip Bergh joined forces and encouraged other CEOs to help them in getting people to the polls. They launched the Time to Vote campaign on Sep. 23, just a few days before the start of the national registration to vote on Sep. 26.  

More than 315 companies are involved in the campaign, giving time to vote to their employees, like shutting down stores and offices all over the country or just allowing them a few hours off from their job so that they can get to the polls.

“In 2016 we noticed that one of the problems was that people could not go to vote due to a busy work schedule. If we remove this barrier we thought we can increase the low voter turnout,” Corley Kenna, Senior Director of Global Communication and PR at Patagonia, explained in a telephone interview.

In the last midterms, the voter turnout was even lower than in 2016.

The United States Election Project , run by Dr. Michael McDonald at the University of Florida, shows that in 2014 only 36 percent of the voting-eligible population cast a vote.

Statistics published by Pew Research further demonstrate that just 19 percent of millennials went to the polls in 2014. Additionally, 41.8 percent of all employees cast their vote.

According to the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), the low turnout figures placed the United States at the bottom of electoral participation among the most developed countries in the world.

Kenna explained that Patagonia is not forcing all the participating companies to follow a strict schedule nor that they must close their offices or stores. They want those involved in Time to Vote – like Walmart, Gap, and Lyft – to give their employees just a few hours off so that they can vote.

At Patagonia Store in Boston, the poster on the front door is clear: they will shut down.

“We are closing to send a message to our customers and the public, that there is nothing more important than voting in this midterm,” said Maya Spencer, Patagonia store manager.

The campaign is about more than shutting down of offices and stores. Many companies are also involved in other activities aimed to help employees and citizens to become more aware of democracy and Election Day.

The Newbury Street Patagonia store has notices describing the importance of democracy and midterms all around the shop. Leaflets with “Midterms Matter” are placed at the registers and Spencer said all the notices “can get the word out to everyone that walks through our door.”

Levi Strauss & Co, beyond giving its employees hours off for the midterms, is trying to involve young generations in voter registration and in getting out to vote through an ad campaign. The company is sending messages on their Twitter and Instagram accounts as well as through TV with the commercial “Use Your Vote” featuring Aretha Franklin’s song “Think.”

Levi’s is partnering also with Rock the Vote, the non-profit campaign launched in 1990 to get young people to vote. They have been registering people in 40 stores all over the country and according to Rock the Vote, 782 people – more than half of them between 18 and 29 years old – have used national in-store registration at Levi’s.

Patagonia’s Corley Kenna said she hopes the efforts of companies will help raise the voter turnout to above 36 percent on Nov. 6. If that happens, she said, “it will be a win.”

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