What Local Businesses are Doing to Boost Voter Participation on Election Day
Voters at a polling station. ( Photo by : Joseph Sohm)

What Local Businesses are Doing to Boost Voter Participation on Election Day

Anytime Fitness, Askov Finlayson, Clockwork, Nice Ride, Target are among the companies in the Twin Cities that have enacted policies including full closures, adjusted hours, and more, to ensure employees get to the polls.

Midterm election day is fast approaching, and calls to vote are coming from everywhere and everyone – celebrity social media posts; advertisements on TV, radio and on billboards; and not to mention friends and families. Some businesses are taking a stand, too, establishing closures or other office policies to ensure staff members get out to vote.

Take for example Minneapolis-based retail giant Target. In addition to teaming with the organizations How to Vote and Turbo Vote to spread voting information, the company is also allowing employees to take time out of the day if they can’t go to the polls before or after work.

Similarly, Woodbury-based fitness enterprise Anytime Fitness isn’t closing its corporate offices or gyms, but the company’s national media director Mark Daly says employees are allowed – or rather, strongly encouraged – to take time off during the day to get to the polls.

Daly says that promoting staff engagement in public policy is part of the company culture, so its Election Day decision came naturally. 

“We want to make it as easy for our employees to vote on election day as possible,” says Daly. “It’s everyone’s civic privilege and responsibility.”

Showing a grander-scheme commitment, Anytime Fitness is a member of ElectionDay.org, one of several online initiatives calling for companies to establish voter-friendly policies.

Minneapolis-based clothing company Askov Finlayson is a member of another, similar initiative, Time to Vote. As such, the company – and the other two Dayton brothers-owned businesses, Marvel Bar and The Bachelor Farmer – have established their own Election Day plan.

Marvel Bar and The Bachelor Farmer spokesperson Erin Kincheloe says Marvel Bar, The Bachelor Farmer restaurant, and Askov Finlayson will open one hour later than usual on November 6, and The Bachelor Farmer cafe will instead close one hour earlier. Hourly employees scheduled during the closures will still be paid for that time.

Additionally, meetings for administrative office employees are banned on Tuesday as a way to provide them greater flexibility for getting to the polls.

Minneapolis creative agency Carmichael Lynch is going a step further, as it noted in an Instagram post Thursday that for half the day on November 6 – until noon – its offices would be closed and employees will have out-of-office email responses set, to give staff full focus on voting. They even created a slogan for the decision: “Out of office, into office.”

Kicking things up still another notch is Clockwork, a Minneapolis-based software company. For the first time in Clockwork’s history, it will be closed for all of Election Day.

“We offer a good amount of flexible time, but I wanted to make more of a statement,” says Clockwork CEO Nancy Lyons of her decision, which she claims was a decision made sometime in May. 

She says she was spurred to enact this policy now, more than ever, in part because of the low voter turnout of the 2016 presidential election.

“The fact that half of eligible voters didn’t show up…I think people are not prioritizing their civic responsibility and it’s less a responsibility and more a right and privilege that people fought for,” says Lyons. “To me it was like, if we’re getting in the way, let’s get work out of the way.”

While Lyons and Clockwork, and other businesses address the issue of workers not having the time to vote, rideshare apps are addressing another common challenge voters face: transportation.

Case in point: Minneapolis-based Nice Ride is offering free use of its bike fleet for rides to and from the polls.

“We are thrilled to provide Minneapolis residents with a no-cost, quick and convenient way to get to the polls this Election Day,” said Nice Ride Minnesota general manager Melissa Summers in a statement.

Janelle Waldock, vice president of community health and health equity for Nice Ride sponsor Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, added: “Strong participation in elections is vital to creating healthy communities. We are proud to support an organization that is playing such a direct role in getting out the vote!”

With the code BiketoVote, Nice Ride users can obtain a free day pass for any of the dockless blue bikes Nice Ride recently rolled out. Twin Cities residents can also look for Lime vehicles, as the California-based company is offering free Election Day rides, too.

Lyons feels it’s important for any company to do anything they can to help boost voter turnout, instead of shying away from social and political issues. At least that’s a precedent she wants to set for Clockwork.

In addition to the day-off policy, Clockwork employees have been encouraged to volunteer to personally assist with voter turnout. On the communications platform Slack, Clockwork employees – of which there are around 55 – are swapping volunteer ideas, Lyons says, including being election judges and driving others to and from polls.

“I think it’s important for us, as a values-based organization, to show up with our values in this conversation,” says Lyons. “I don’t need people to share my politics, but I do need them to share my commitment… I don’t understand why we don’t take election day more seriously.”

If she had it her way, Lyons says she’d treat Election Day as a holiday—much like President’s Day.

“There are few things that are more important that we do than vote for our elected officials,” says Daly, sharing a similar sentiment on the significance of voting. “If that means missing work time, that’s just fine.”