Editor’s Note: Neil Blumenthal and Dave Gilboa are co-founders and co-CEOs of Warby Parker. Sarah Bonk is founder of Business for America. The opinions expressed in this commentary are their own.
For decades, voting in this country has been too difficult and participation has been too low — one out of five citizens who are eligible to vote are not registered. There are many unnecessary barriers that prevent eligible citizens from fully participating in our democratic process. And now, with Covid-19 in the foreground, our fragile election system may be pushed to a breaking point. In what was once the world’s most advanced democracy, today we find ourselves facing the possibility of a flawed 2020 election.
It’s our duty as members of the business community to take action to safeguard the democratic process — this basic level of civic engagement is also expected by our employees and consumers. We’re asking business leaders across America to join us in ensuring all employees are able to exercise their right to vote and have the proper tools and means necessary to do so. We have a responsibility to preserve the system of democratic governance that allowed us to dream big and start our own enterprises in this country. A stable democracy benefits employees, customers, business and society.
As the pandemic continues to grip the nation, this call to action is even more urgent. In a recent Pew Research poll, two-thirds of Americans responded that they expect the pandemic to disrupt the presidential election. Too many states are under-resourced to hold safe elections under current circumstances. Already in the primaries, we saw how fewer open locations and poll worker shortages resulted in overcrowded, unsafe conditions and long lines to vote. On top of that, several states have been unable to meet the demand for absentee ballots on a timely basis, preventing a portion of voters’ voices from being heard. If we don’t take action now, the problems will be worse in the general election. Public health is essential but so is civic health, and no one should have to choose between the two.
The same goes for choosing between work and voting. In 2018, more than one in 10 Americans said they or a member of their household were unable to get time off from work the last time they tried to vote. What’s more, Black and Hispanic Americans were more likely than White Americans to face challenges getting the time off from work to vote. And other barriers to voting — such as voter identification requirements and voter registration restrictions — continue to disproportionately impact communities of color.
As business leaders, it’s our responsibility to ensure our employees are able to exercise their right to express their preference in who leads their local community, their state and our country. At Warby Parker, we are focusing our efforts on the following three areas that all businesses can utilize to support employees through the voting process: education (providing information to all team members as to where, when and how they can vote); registration (which is incorporated into the onboarding process for new hires); and participation (ensuring employees have paid time off to vote and the opportunity to serve as poll workers). Warby Parker and Business for America are also partnering with local organizations focused on overcoming barriers to voting and increasing turnout in communities with historically low voter participation.
Talk about voting with your employees and your communities. Inform your social media followers about critical voting deadlines to register and request an absentee ballot. Give your employees the time they need to vote. We invite you to join us in ensuring your employees and communities have a voice by doing the following:
- Sign our business letter urging Congress to fund secure absentee ballots and safe early voting at the polling booth. Your business has impact with lawmakers — it’s time to put it to good use.
- Join Time to Vote. Commit to ensuring that every employee at your company has the time to complete their ballot, whether at the polls or at home. Help get out the vote by encouraging your customers and communities to vote, too.
- Mobilize your company resources. Sign up to provide direct support such as poll workers, facilities and PPE. Join us in partnering with local organizations to share information in communities with historically low turnout.
We must take swift, decisive action to ensure that we all have the opportunity to participate in a safe, secure and credible election. Informed, engaged citizens and employees are good for business and our country. As business leaders, we must leverage our voices and resources to make that happen. Please join Warby Parker and Business for America in fighting to uphold the most fundamental aspect of the American experiment: our elections.