When Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued a proclamation this month capping the number of drop-off locations for ballots to one site in each county, Lyft quickly stepped up.
The ride-share company joined forces with a voting rights group started by NBA star LeBron James and other prominent athletes to offer free or discounted rides to help get voters to the single remaining drop-off site in the sprawling Democratic stronghold of Harris County.
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Lyft is far from the only company to get involved with getting people to vote. Anyone who signs a new lease with real-estate company Zillow is now prompted to register and automatically receives voting information that covers the jurisdiction where the lease was signed. And Uber, in addition to promoting its discounted rides to the polls, has offered up its driver hubs in 17 states as polling places to replace the senior centers and schools the coronavirus pandemic has made off limits for election activity.
As the country gears up for an election like no other, a growing slice of corporate America has opted to jump into the fray in this year’s tumultuous voting process – as a tool for civic engagement, to drive turnout and to distinguish their brands in an increasingly partisan world.
“For several years, employees and American consumers have been encouraging America’s largest companies to take a strong stand on social issues,” said Steven Levine, who runs the Civic Alliance, a group that launched this year and is committed to make voting easier. More than 450 companies form the alliance.
“I think what American companies are finding is that by encouraging nonpartisan civic engagement that company can, at once, take a meaningful action, while also deferring to the very employees and consumers who are urging them to take these actions.”
Companies and groups in the Alliance range from Levi Strauss & Co. and the NBA to Starbucks and retail giant Target. The Alliance also is part of a nonpartisan coalition, Power the Polls, that is helping recruit poll workers.
Some corporate activity offers a decidedly more pointed perspective. The outdoor clothing firm Patagonia, for instance, has a history of closing its doors on Election Day, so its employees can vote. But it also made headlines last month when it inserted “vote the a**holes out” tags in a batch of its shorts.
Company officials say the politicians they want to oust are those who deny climate change.
Stepping into the void
Casting a ballot in 2020 has become the subject of controversy as the coronavirus pandemic dramatically alters how Americans vote. On the campaign trail and on Twitter this year, President Donald Trump has falsely targeted voting by mail as open to widespread fraud, although tens of millions of Americans may exercise that option.
And with just three weeks to go until Election Day, the House, Senate and White House are not close to any agreement on a coronavirus stimulus relief package that would address the $4 billion that some election experts say is needed to carry out an election amid a pandemic.
Conservative legal groups have gone to court in several key states in the hopes of barring election administrators from using private grants funded by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan. The grants, aimed at helping local officials conduct the election during the pandemic, will disproportionately help Democrats, the conservatives argue.
“The President is casting doubt on the integrity of voting, something we have done for nearly 250 years, so we have this crisis,” said Richard Levick, the CEO of public-relations firm LEVICK and a member of the Civic Alliance. “Into this void have stepped up hundreds and hundreds of companies, who have said: ‘We want to do our part in order to protect our democracy.’ “
“You are seeing very much mercantile activism here, as I refer to it,” he added.
Many have joined broad, nonpartisan coalitions. In addition to the Civic Alliance, more than 1,400 companies make up Time to Vote, which encourages firms to educate employees about voting early or by mail and to offer workers paid time off on Election Day to cast their ballots.
Individual companies also are taking specific steps, large and small. Brewing giant Anheuser-Busch is making and distributing hand sanitizer for polling locations. The wedding-registry site Zola this week reminded its recently married Instagram followers that a name change requires them to update their voter registrations and provides a link to upcoming voter registration deadlines across the country.
In Texas, a legal battle has raged over the number of locations available to drop off ballots. Abbott, the state’s Republican governor, has moved to limit them to one in each county. If state officials prevail in the courts, that means Harris County – home to Houston and more than 2 million potential voters – must reduce its 12 locations to one.
More Than a Vote, the group aligned with James and other athletes, announced a partnership with Lyft to help those voters get $15 off a one-way ride to the remaining drop-off site from anywhere in the county.
“No doubt Harris County voters should have greater access to ballot drop-off options,” Kendrick Perkins, a former Cleveland Cavaliers center who is part of the group, said in a statement. “But given the current reality, we’re going to help people vote in whatever way we can.”