NEW YORK (Reuters Breakingviews) - Corporate America is giving the country’s politicians a civics lesson. Walmart, Tyson Foods, Levi Strauss and hundreds of other firms are encouraging their employees to cast a ballot in this week’s U.S. congressional elections. They are acting largely because a mishmash of state laws and the lack of a national holiday make voting a challenge.
U.S. federal law designates the first Tuesday of November for national elections. That is an inconvenience to many because it falls on a workday. That’s why more than 370 companies have signed on to the Make Time to Vote initiative. They are easing the path in various ways, including giving employees paid time off to vote on Nov. 6. Walmart’s participation is notable given that the retailer is the largest private employer in the United States, with 1.5 million staff.
Voter turnout in the United States is remarkably low. During the last congressional midterm elections in 2014, only 36 percent of people eligible to cast a ballot did so, the lowest rate since World War Two. The 56 percent turnout in the 2016 presidential contest ranked the United States 26th out of 32 leading developed countries, according to Pew Research.
Complicating matters is that each state has different laws. While Iowa allows for some paid time off for workers to vote, Connecticut does not, according to the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations.
Other states have been accused of suppressing voters or gerrymandering districts. On Nov. 2, a federal court blocked Georgia’s top election official, who is also the Republican candidate for governor, from throwing out more than 50,000 absentee ballots and applications because signatures don’t exactly match the state’s databases. Earlier this year Pennsylvania’s top court ordered congressional districts redrawn for the midterms while legal challenges are pending in a dozen other states, mostly alleging boundaries were drawn to favor Republican candidates.
A federal law mandating some paid time off would probably help bolster voter turnout. So too would moving election day to the weekend, or declaring it a national holiday. Both ideas are nonstarters in today’s Washington, though. That leaves companies to lead the country to the polls.
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