By Steven Levine, co-founder at Meteorite, and Anjelica Smith, Program Director at Democracy Works
This Tuesday, November 2, tens of millions of Americans have the chance to shape the future of their communities.
Local elections have an outsized impact on people’s daily lives, and there are hundreds of them taking place Tuesday, including mayoral elections in over 15 major cities and races for governor in New Jersey and Virginia.
Yet, the low turnout these elections attract means that roughly 1 out of 5 eligible voters will be picking the winners and setting the rules for the other four. That’s a troubling sign for a healthy democracy. And it’s a potential missed opportunity for companies. Civic engagement is good for the country, and it’s good for business.
Far from getting “dragged into politics,” companies that run “get out the vote” programs benefit with raised brand awareness, stronger connection to employees and customers, and new relationships with elected officials.
What makes this possible is the unique level of trust Americans have for their employers. In fact, 72% of Americans trust their employers—higher than any other source. This gives companies a unique opportunity, and some would say a responsibility, to inspire civic participation where it’s needed most. And nowhere is it needed more than in local and state elections.
So how can brands help?
Here are three strategies your company can use to strengthen democracy and support your business. We’ve included a simple action you can take this Tuesday, along with more involved approaches that your company can work towards for the midterm elections in 2022.
1. Create a voter-friendly workplace by ensuring employees have time to vote.
For many workers, especially people with two jobs, working parents, and those on swing shifts, time is one of the biggest obstacles to voting. Businesses can make voting easier for millions of employees by providing time off so workers don’t have to choose between their paycheck and their vote.
These policies should apply not only to salaried and corporate employees but be particularly tailored to hourly workers, including retail, administrative, janitorial, security and logistics teams, who often need flexibility the most. This is also a prime opportunity for companies looking to live up to their new commitments on equity.
This Tuesday, consider encouraging your managers to reach out to their employees to offer flexibility in their schedule, or propose a no-meetings day, which could help employees get to the polls before or after work, or on a lunch break. In 2022, your policy could follow the lead of major brands by offering paid time off on Election Day or through a set of “civic hours” that can be used throughout the election season.
2. Engage employees with election reminders.
Local elections often fly under the radar for many Americans. Meanwhile, company newsletters are cited as one of the most trusted sources of information for employees. So, companies can play a powerful role solely in informing employees about elections, and sharing concrete tools to steer employees through the process.
Consider sending out a company-wide email to share that many Americans are eligible to vote on Tuesday, and encourage employees to sign up for free, personalized election reminders at turbovote.org. Looking towards 2022, sending state-specific reminders for the primary elections that will take place next spring and summer, and the general election in November are effective approaches to keep employees informed and engaged.
Those reminders will be all the more valuable in light of the changes employees may experience at the voting booth as a result of new voting laws in many states and continued accommodations due to the pandemic. Companies can communicate these changes to their audiences by issuing memos, sharing reminders or information on internal intranet or messaging apps, sending emails from leadership, enlisting their employee resource groups, and more. When it comes to these reminders, experience shows that more is more.
3. Inspire customers to participate.
As a boon to both brand and country, companies should also encourage their customers to vote.
In the 2020 election, many companies went beyond internal communications to promote voting to their communities, creating a “surround sound” of external communications that inspired their customers. They identified how they could connect with their audiences and created customized outreach programs. Brands emailed customers, stores sold branded “voter” products, sports arenas hosted polling places and companies donated products, and found ways to inspire voter participation across the board.
Even with local elections upon us, it’s not too late for brands to generate civic momentum. Consider sharing a reminder that Tuesday is Election Day on your company’s social media channels, or adding it to an email blast.Brands know their audiences and what will excite them. So, companies should ask themselves: How can we celebrate Election Day and encourage participation? How can our company rally around voting? What unique opportunity does our business have to reach potential voters?
As you answer these questions, it is important to remember to lead with empowering messages and steer clear from partisan perspectives, candidate endorsements, or negative messaging about low turnout, which only further depresses voter participation.
Instead, make the case for why local elections matter, how much more power voters have on a local level, and how every vote counts. Some local races literally come down to one vote. You’ll demonstrate leadership while living your brand’s values and commitment to the community.
By communicating the importance of voting with employees and customers, and enabling them to be civically active, companies can be champions for democracy and strengthen their business during this local election season.
Why do local elections matter? Because similar to running a business, even the smallest decisions can prove to be the most impactful.
For free guidance on creating a nonpartisan civic initiative at your company, join the Civic Alliance, a nonpartisan community of more than 1,250 companies committed to increasing voter turnout and strengthening our democracy. There is no cost to become a member. Rather, companies join by taking a pledge to encourage civic participation among their employees, their customers, or both. Learn more and become a member at civicalliance.com.