Retailers Join Efforts To Maximize Voter Participation

  • September 21, 2020 at 8:12 AM EDT
  • By Marie Griffin
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It started in the runup to the 2018 midterm elections: Hundreds of companies, including many retailers, joined nonpartisan efforts to encourage voter participation through a business-led coalition called Time to Vote. More than 300 companies, including Patagonia, The Gap, DICK’S Sporting Goods and Walmart committed to removing some of the logistical barriers that often keep workers from voting. Participating companies used strategies such as paid time off, “a day without meetings,” and educational resources on how employees could avoid election-day pressure through mail-in ballots and early voting.

By the end of August 2020, Time to Vote announced that more than 700 companies had joined the group, and that the organization was widening its scope to address new obstacles presented by COVID-19. Major retailers that have recently joined Time to Vote include Macy’s, Nike, Steve Madden and Stitch Fix.

J.Crew Group is closing its J.Crew and Madewell stores, corporate offices, and distribution and customer service centers on Election Day to give employees the opportunity to vote. “Our decision to join the Time to Vote movement is a wholly non-partisan decision and made as an effort to create actionable change at our organization, in our community and beyond,” said Jan Singer, CEO of J.Crew Group in a statement.

On Election Day, Nov. 3, Best Buy is shortening operating hours across the company — stores, corporate offices, field offices and in-home installation services — and all U.S. employees of The North Face will get up to three hours of paid time off to vote, according to Business Insider.

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Retailers Help Recruit Poll Workers

In addition, a nonpartisan business coalition called the Civic Alliance is focusing on the pandemic-related issue of a shortage of poll workers. The Civic Alliance has more than 150 members, including Amazon, Target, Old Navy, Etsy and Warby Parker.

Many companies in the alliance are providing paid time off or schedule flexibility for employees who volunteer to staff polling places. In addition, Levi’s has made a commitment to provide 15,000 masks for poll workers “to help ensure that no one has to choose between their vote and their health,” said President and CEO Chip Bergh in a statement.

Old Navy announced that it will compensate store associates who serve as poll workers with eight hours of pay. “Every voice in this country matters and deserves to be heard at the polls, and if we at Old Navy can be even a small part of making that process more accessible to the communities we call home, we are on board,” said Nancy Green, President of Old Navy in a statement.

Voting Support Avoids Risks Of Appearing Partisan

Under the auspices of the Harvard Kennedy School Ash Center, Ashley Spillane and Sofia Gross conducted an in-depth study with eight companies, including Gap Inc., Patagonia and Target, that had executed voter engagement programs during the 2018 election cycle with employees, consumers or both.

“Studies show that consumers are more loyal to brands that take a clear stance on issues they care about. But taking a partisan approach to civic engagement can alienate employees or customers in today’s hyperpartisan environment. Our study finds a sweet spot for firms: being pro-democracy and pro-voter, without being partisan,” they wrote in an article published last year in the Harvard Business Review. “It was important to the leadership and staff in these companies to keep their efforts nonpartisan, because their goal was to strengthen democracy, not advocate for a particular candidate or party.

Retailers Provide Voting Info And Registration Sites

Many retail companies are members of both Time to Vote and the Civic Alliance, and some are going further and allying with a diverse group of organizations.

Target has set up a web site called Vote411.org/Target in partnership with the League of Women Voters Education Fund. The site includes a checklist for first-time voters, links to local election information and phone numbers to call if a voter encounters problems on Election Day.

Foot Locker has partnered with Rock the Vote to leverage the stores in its family of brands as voting registration sites. Starting Sept. 22, visitors to any U.S. location will have one-click access to a digital hub where they can register to vote, check registration status and sign up for election reminders.

Nordstrom has forged partnerships with When We All Vote and the National Urban League. The collaboration includes an exclusive collection of Nordstrom Made “VOTE” apparel, and the department store will donate a portion of the proceeds from the merchandise sales to the two organizations. Nordstrom stores and operations centers will remain open on Nov. 3, 2020, but the company has declared it a “holiday,” meaning that management “will work with employees to set schedules which will enable them to get to the polls.” Store, fulfillment center, distribution center and call center employees will be offered discounted rides to their voting places through Lyft.

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