Editor’s Note: Nancy Green is the president of Old Navy. The opinions expressed in this commentary are her own.
I love waking up on Election Day, going to my polling place a few blocks from my house and casting my ballot. As I stand in line with other members of my community, it always reminds me that no matter which bubbles we fill out, we can make our voices heard. It’s vitally important for our healthy democracy that all Americans — people of all genders, ages, races and ethnicities and political viewpoints — have the opportunity to cast their vote.
But this year, our right and duty to participate in the voting process is at risk. We are facing a challenge that threatens the foundation of our democracy: As many as 500,000 new poll workers and elections volunteers will be needed in order to keep the polls open this election. That’s why I’m calling on all CEOs to join Old Navy in paying employees to work the polls this year.
Why do we face such a huge shortage? Historically, poll workers skew older. In fact, according to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, more than half of poll workers in the 2018 general election were over the age of 60. This is the same demographic that is linked to a higher risk for Covid-19 — making the decision to volunteer a risky one for many in 2020.
Without people to work the polls, stations could close entirely, or lines could be hours long, which means some voters may have to pick between keeping their shift at work or casting their vote.
It’s imperative to our democracy that we have enough poll workers to make Election Day run smoothly. To close this gap, America will need to rely on those who are healthy, willing and able. We recognize many people are forced to choose between their workday and working the polls. We don’t want our teams to have to make that choice.
At Old Navy, inclusivity and opportunity have always been part of our DNA. With 50,000 employees in our stores across the country, we saw an opportunity, and a responsibility, to help. That’s why we are empowering our employees to get involved this Election Day, without the concern of missing a paycheck.
We partnered with the Civic Alliance, a nonpartisan coalition of businesses engaged in civics, and Power the Polls, a nonpartisan initiative to recruit poll workers for a safe and fair election, and will pay our store employees eight hours of time if they sign up and are selected to work the polls in their local area.
For those who aren’t able to serve in this capacity, we are offering up to three hours of paid time off to vote. We are joined by our Gap Inc. portfolio brands Gap, Banana Republic and Athleta in this commitment to pay teams to work the polls as well as offer paid time to vote. For our teams in our headquarters offices, November 3 is a day with no meetings, so those employees can have the flexibility to participate in the voting process and serve at the polls, as well.
Our team members are energized and excited by the opportunity to participate in our democratic process and to support their voting rights, and the rights of so many other Americans.
I’m incredibly proud of how our employees are mobilizing, but the reality is, Old Navy alone will not be enough. We need other companies to join with us to meet this challenge.
That’s why I am asking other CEOs and business leaders to provide the same opportunity for their employees. I encourage organizations to partner with Power the Polls and make the commitment to pay their employees to serve as poll workers on November 3.
And I’m asking employees to speak up and ask their leaders what support their companies are providing for voting in this year’s election — whether it’s paid time off or flex time, work with your employer to make accommodations so you can exercise your right to vote and help others to do the same.