American companies make time to vote

Abby Meyers, 19, stands outside the Patagonia Store in Boston reading the poster on the front door on October 31. Photo by Gaia De Simoni/ BU News Service.

By Gaia De Simoni
BU News Service

BOSTON — Walking on Newbury Street one cannot help but notice. Its 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 hundreds of companies all over the United States.

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

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 by shutting down stores and offices all over the country or just allowing them a few hours off to 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,” said Corley Kenna, senior director of Global Communication and PR at Patagonia. “If we remove this barrier we thought we can increase the low voter turnout.” 

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 just 19 percent of millennials went to the polls in 2014.

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 Patagonia is not forcing all the participating companies to follow a strict schedule nor require closing 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 they can vote.

At the 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,” Spencer said. “There is nothing more important than voting in this midterm.”

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 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 workers – 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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