In-Depth: Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-PA) introduced this bill to require employers to grant their workers at least two hours of paid leave to vote in federal elections, thereby making voting more accessible to all workers:
“We need to do more to bring people into the electorate. In a true democracy, every eligible voter should be able to cast a ballot without having to make a professional or economic sacrifice. Our election results should reflect the will and desires of the American people.”
When he first introduced this bill in the 115th Congress, Rep. Cartwright said:
“Voting should not be a luxury that only the well-off can afford. This bill helps ensure that all Americans, regardless of their economic status, are able to exercise the right to vote.”
In an joint op-ed in Fortune, co-authored with Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez, Rep. Cartwright expounded on the need for paid time off to vote:
"In election after election, American workers are forced to choose between their paycheck and their vote. This is simply unacceptable in the world’s greatest democracy... Democratic lawmakers in Congress and across the country have been fighting to make voting easier. But Republican leaders continue to block any legislation that would help more people get to the polls, including the Time Off to Vote Act, which would give voters at least two hours of paid leave to vote in federal elections. Voter suppression has been part of the Republican playbook for decades, because they know that the only way they can win elections is if fewer people vote... In the absence of effective Republican leadership in Congress, companies need to take the initiative. This is not about partisanship—it’s about patriotism. It’s about making sure that every eligible voter can exercise their constitutional right at the ballot box... Our democracy works best when more people participate, not fewer. Let’s make sure everyone can make their voice heard on Election Day.
Common Cause supports this bill. Its Director of Legislative Affairs, Aaron Scherb, says:
"As some states pass restrictive and discriminatory laws that make voting more difficult, the Time Off to Vote Act is needed more than ever. Common Cause commends Representative Cartwright for his leadership to promote voting rights so that all eligible Americans can have their voices heard at the ballot box.”
Colette Kessler, director of partnerships for Vote.org, adds that companies are well-positioned to help their employees gain time to work, pointing out, “Being able to take the time to vote is a real barrier for most Americans, and companies are very well-positioned to remove that roadblock for their employees.”
During the 2018 election season, Stanford professors Adam Bonica and Michael McFaul, along with over 400 political science professors and voting rights experts, called upon businesses and universities to voluntarily cancel classes and grand paid time off to employees on Election Day. In an op-ed in the Washington Post, Bonica and McFaul wrote:
"Voter turnout in the United States is among the lowest in the world. In the 2014 midterm elections, 33 percent of the voting-age population voted, setting the record for the lowest turnout in any national election of any advanced democracy (except Andorra) since 1945. There are many reasons so few Americans vote, but among them is that the United States is one of the few countries that holds elections on a workday. Finding time to vote during a workday imposes a significant burden that falls disproportionately on workers and students, who frequently cite scheduling conflicts with work or school as their reason for not voting... [T]he occupations that report the highest voter turnout rates in midterm elections are salaried professionals with flexible work schedules such as lawyers, educators and executives. Those with the lowest turnout are hourly paid workers in service jobs in restaurants and retail... Only 1 in 5 students reported voting in the 2014 midterm elections. This is a fundamentally unfair way to conduct elections. Income, profession or type of work should not determine voter turnout. All Americans should have an equal opportunity to vote on Election Day... [L]eaders of companies, nongovernmental organizations and other employers should take the initiative by giving their workers at least four hours of paid time off on [Election Day]. Professors at colleges and universities also should cancel classes on Election Day to give students time to vote. On this one day, instead of preparing for the future, students should be taking part in deciding it. We understand that our proposal will impose costs on businesses. At a time of record earnings and strong economic growth, however, we are asking employers and teachers to consider our recommendation as an act of patriotism. To help all Americans participate in a most sacred American civic responsibility is an honorable act. In response to those companies that refuse to allow their workers time off to vote, consumers should mobilize to hold them to account for putting profit before the health of our democracy... The legitimacy of our democracy depends not just on people having equal rights to vote, but also on equal opportunities to vote, and on having representatives chosen by a representative set of citizens."
Opponents of this bill argue that early voting and absentee voting — which reached record levels in 2018 — make offering paid time off to vote on Election Day unnecessary. They also add that on Election Day itself, nearly every state opens its polls before the start of normal working hours, and closes them after the end of typical working hours.
However, it's worth noting that only three states vote entirely by mail, and only 27 states and the District of Columbia allow excuse-free absentee voting. In 20 states, people can only vote by mail if they have an acceptable excuse. For example, Pennsylvania requires citizens who want to vote by mail to submit a signed statement explaining their inability to vote in person.
This bill has the support of 30 Democratic cosponsors in the current session of Congress. Last Congress, it had the support of 21 Democratic cosponsors, as well as the endorsements of Common Cause, Asian Americans Advancing Justice - AAJC, and Let America Vote, but didn't receive a committee vote.
Of Note: Currently, 25 out of 50 states don’t require employers to give their employees paid leave to vote. In 19 states, employers aren’t required to let their employees leave work to vote. This can lead to employees being actively prohibited by their employers from leaving work to vote, and many others choosing not to attend the pools because they can’t afford to lose the one to three hours of wages that they’re forgoing by going to the polls. For an individual working a 40-hour job at a minimum wage, taking two hours off to vote would mean forgoing 5% of their weekly salary — a cost many working-class Americans simply can’t shoulder. When the Pew Research Center surveyed Americans who didn't vote in the 2008 election about their reasons for not voting, 14 percent cited inability to get time off work or fit voting into their schedules.
However, despite the law not requiring them to do so, many companies are already giving their employees paid time off to vote. Thanks to Vote.org’s ElectionDay.org initiative encouraging companies to encourage voter participation by giving employees paid time off, about 300 companies, including Etsy, Patagonia, and Levi Strauss, gave their employees paid time off to vote in the 2018 midterm election.
In early 2019, the city of Sandusky, Ohio made Election Day a paid city holiday, replacing Columbus Day. In Canada, the Canada Elections Act requires all employers to ensure that every employee has at least a three-hour block in which to vote; this time is paid.
Summary by Lorelei Yang(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / hermosawave)