CEO challenges America’s businesses to close on Election Day

It’s still a mystery why so many people didn’t bother to vote in the last election. We’re nearly two years removed and the political media hasn’t seen fit to ask since the day after the 2016 election, nor has it revisited people who acknowledged passing on their right to vote in the belief it couldn’t make a difference.

Most every reason that people have given for not voting is a dodge, and lacking any real data, it’s hard to say whether efforts to increase the percentage of registered voters who bother to go to the polls will ever pay off.

Still, they persist.

Take Rose Marcario, for example. The CEO of Patagonia today posted a challenge to companies to do what hers did in 2016 and give employees a paid day off on Election Day.

“Corporate citizenship” gets a lot of lip service, but too few companies stop to consider what citizenship really means. It’s not just about being a good member of your community, crucial as that is. It’s not just about philanthropy, valuable as that can be, too. Citizenship requires something more. It requires supporting democracy. And democracy needs our support more than ever because it’s under attack.

We know Russia interfered in the last presidential election, and, flush with its success, will likely do so again. Hackers and trolls for hire use social media platforms to spread divisive propaganda and turn Americans against one another. This should concern all of us, no matter our politics.

That’s why Patagonia is making it a priority to encourage everyone to vote in this year’s enormously important midterm elections. Voting is a fundamental right enshrined by our founders, fought for by generations of civil rights activists, and defended by the brave men and women of our military. As Robert F. Kennedy said, it’s the ultimate guarantee of a free society, and it’s our responsibility as citizens. So, we want everyone to show up—our employees, customers, neighbors, friends—everyone.

On Election Day 2016, we closed all our retail stores nationwide, our distribution and customer service center in Nevada, and our headquarters in California, and gave all Patagonia employees paid time off so they could go vote. This year, we’re doing it again. And this time, we’re actively encouraging other companies to join us. Because no American should have to choose between a paycheck and fulfilling his or her duty as a citizen.

Midterm elections suffer from low voter turnout. In 2014, national voter participation was the lowest it’s been since 1942. Just over 36 percent of eligible voters showed up, and even less in a lot of states. More people vote in presidential elections—about 56 percent in 2016—but the United States still ranks 26th out of 32 advanced democracies in terms of ballots cast by registered voters.

Why don’t more Americans vote? For many, it’s just not possible to get time off from work on a busy Tuesday. A 2014 Pew Research Center study found that 35 percent of eligible voters said scheduling conflicts, either with work or school, kept them from the polls on Election Day. We can fix that.

There are a number of ways to boost voter turnout. While some states are going in the wrong direction, adding new obstacles to voting like ID laws that discriminate against students, poor people, and people of color, other states are making it easier. In Oregon, Washington and Colorado you can vote by mail, and participation has gone way up. Nine states and the District of Columbia (with more on the way) now use automatic voter registration, which clears away another big hurdle. There’s even talk about making Election Day a national holiday. But until that happens, it’s up to those of us in the private sector to do our part.

At Patagonia, our founder, Yvon Chouinard, realized a long time ago that inspired, effective employees need the freedom to pursue their passions—that’s why he named his book Let My People Go Surfing. Now more than ever, we also need our employees to be engaged citizens. All of us benefit from living in a free society. That’s what allowed us to build businesses in the first place, and it’s what guarantees us the right to defend our air, water and soil. So this year my message to everyone at Patagonia and all my fellow business leaders is: Let our people go vote.

According to the Census Department, 61.4 percent of the citizen voting-age population reported voting, a number not statistically different from the 61.8 percent who reported voting in 2012.

Marcario’s challenge probably isn’t going to go anywhere. Bills are regularly filed to declare Election Day a national holiday but companies have resisted because it basically increases vacation time to employees and costs them too much money.

And if you provide a Tuesday holiday, employees will find a way to take Monday off, too. Much like what many of them are doing today and tomorrow.

  • crystals

    I’m good with this AND automatic voter registration AND same day registration. Just as a start. (Addressing gerrymandering and voter disenfranchisement also need to be on the docket ASAP.)

  • John F.

    I’m not well-informed on the history of Election Day, but is there any reason why it is on a Tuesday aside from tradition? Perhaps the solution would be to have it on a weekend? (or a Friday, to prevent the problem Bob points out)

    Furthermore, we also have somewhat reasonable early and absentee voting systems (I know, they need work). I have often taken advantage of these options, as they allow for voting at convenience.

    I guess if I was interested in getting out the vote as an organization, I would be pushing these options. However, I suspect that several politicians aren’t really interested in getting more people to the polls unless it will benefit them directly.

  • RBHolb

    “It’s still a mystery why so many people didn’t bother to vote in the last election.”

    Answering that question would, to me, be far more interesting than yet another reporter from an elite media institution heading into flyover country to talk to real Trump voters about what they were thinking.

    • I completely agree. The last thing we need is yet another visit to Trump country for yet another “have you changed your mind YET????” Those are incredibly vapid.

    • MikeB

      I think it’s more simple than we are making it out to be. People don’t vote because they don’t care. Voting is a values decision. Whatever reasons they give, it’s a rationalization.

      Trying to get non-voters to vote is like selling hair care products to bald men.

      • The answer to the question “why don’t you care” would be illuminating.

        • MikeB

          I don’t think it is an issue of looking at the candidates, comparing how they feel about policy or politics, and then actively deciding to abstain. It’s pure apathy. There is voter suppression, always growing, but mostly disinterest.

          • Right, but why? That question needs exploration. If people, for example, feel the democratic process doesn’t serve them and is irrelevant, that’s worth exploring. Would be a hell of a good news story. Or the reporters can just parachute into coal country again and see how that coal comeback is going.

          • MikeB

            Now is the time to talk to farmers, auto workers, those in light manufacturing, etc to see the direct impact of GOP economic policies on their employment and economic future. It is no longer theoretical. Very few instances can we see a direct cause and effect in a short time frame where those impacted see it clearly.

          • MikeB

            Yup, saw that. A fertile territory now. There will be no shortage of lives upended.

          • Sonny T

            This (the MPR link) is a story about what might happen, or could happen, or is going to happen. What if they’re wrong, and farmers turn out just fine? Then it’s wasted space.

            MikeB has a point about the low (under 50K) income working family. Tax cuts have been in effect for months. Jobs and pay have changed, in some cases dramatically. These are here and now stories waiting to be reported.

  • Gary F

    The people that I know that don’t vote are tired of the campaign season starting too early, and the over the top commercials.

    • Like I said: most excuses are a dodge.

    • Rob

      Meh. Those folks could always vote early. Voting is not totallly painless, but for most folks, it ain’t onerous either.

  • Mike

    >>And if you provide a Tuesday holiday, employees will find a way to take Monday off, too. Much like what many of them are doing today and tomorrow.<<

    This raises the question of whether people would travel more, given that it would be an extra day off. Obviously, if they're traveling, they're less likely to vote. The people who currently don't vote also don't strike me as the type who'd go through the effort to do it early.

    My own take is that non-voters simply don't see any value to it. The process is not sufficiently difficult to deter anyone who wants to take part.

    • Postal Customer

      “The process is not sufficiently difficult to deter anyone who wants to take part.”

      My friend is a poll worker in Wisc. He had to turn away six voters on election day 2016 because they could not jump thru all of Scotty’s hoops.

  • Sonny T

    A nauseating press release filled with holier-than-thou sanctimony. Here’s what their free advertising didn’t tell you:

    1. Pategonia, if following industry averages, retains dozens, if not hundreds of temps. Since Patagonia will close for the day, these low wage workers almost certainly LOSE a day of pay. Nice.

    2. If you could scrutinize the benefits, that free day would likely have been “baked in” to employee packages.

    3. Pategonia reaps the rewards of third world sweatshops, where labor conditions and pay are abysmal. They make nothing here.

    Sorry. Not really very nice people. But they want you to think so.

    • Rob

      The CEO’s letter noted that it’s a PAID day off.

      • Sonny T

        Not for the temps

        • Rob

          As the CEO’s letter notes, Patagonia’s stores are closed on Election Day, dude. Closed. All the employees get a paid day off.

          • Sonny T

            Well let me explain again then we can maybe leave this alone.
            The temps lose a day of work, and a day of pay.

          • X.A. Smith

            You are guessing about this, you know nothing about the company at all, give up the argument. Or show evidence.

          • Sonny T

            If you think temps get paid when they don’t work, you are simply mistaken.

    • Ickster

      I have no idea if any of the claims you make are true, but given that your first is your own supposition (“if following industry averages”) and the second is as well (“if you could . . . likely”), what exactly is your point?

      That you don’t like Patagonia for some reason?

      • Sonny T

        My “suppositions” are well within the operating practices of corporations. And selling original, double-stitched, heirloom walking trousers using virtual slave labor is revolting.

        • Ickster

          Look, I don’t know Patagonia from shinola, and have no interest in defending them.

          The reason I asked what your point is is that your post has virtually nothing to do with the topic at hand (i.e., whether there’s any point in making it easier to vote as a lot of people still won’t bother).

          You didn’t really answer the question, other than doubling down on your hypotheticals.

          • Sonny T

            My point: More corporate flak, look how wonderful we are baloney.

            “… don’t like Patagonia for some reason?” No, I don’t. For the above reasons.

        • KTFoley

          Do you have some evidence of “virtual slave labor” that is more recent than June 2015, when Patagonia went public with what it had found regarding sweatshops in its suppliers?

          Details of what they did about it:

          It is not sufficient to declare that overseas manufacturing and slave labor are one & the same.

          If there’s a clothing company that demonstrates more transparency on the topic, I’d like to know about it.

          • Sonny T

            I’m sure they’ll tell you how wonderful they are.

            The bottom line is Patagonia MAKES NOTHING in the USA. It is laughable that such a company would lecture us on our civic duty.

          • KTFoley

            That’s all — manufacturing sites are outside the US?

            And a bucket of cynicism to paint up that all-or-nothing conclusion?

          • Sonny T

            Yes, that is all. Taking jobs from Americans and using third world sweatshops disqualifies them from lecturing me.

          • KTFoley

            Circling back to the same trope that overseas manufacturing and sweatshops are the same despite the company’s efforts to address the problems as they find them?

            Unless there is evidence to contradict the following, that line of reasoning holds no water.

            Patagonia lists six US finished goods manufacturing sites.

            Its FAQ on the same page also states:
            “We currently use eight assembly factories and more than 40 fabric mills located in the United States. While this does not represent a large percent of our overall volume, we consciously try to source in the U.S. as much as we can. The global chase for skilled, low-cost labor has pretty much caused the U.S. garment industry to shut down. Even in their heyday, U.S. garment factories didn’t have the expertise to make our most technical products. Though we do manufacture some Patagonia garments in the U.S., they are few and limited to some of our more basic styles.”

          • Sonny T

            You sure want to sing their praises. I don’t know why. There’s plenty of manufacturers, including garment companies, that stayed right here in America, and proudly employ Americans.

          • KTFoley

            This company’s efforts are being derided with assertions stated as though they were facts, despite not having provided any information whatsoever to back them up.

            When presented with evidence that contradicts those assertions, the response is to dig in harder on the same old ground rather than engage with any of that data.

            Trolling or willful ignorance? They both come out the same — boring. Have a day.

    • Rob

      That’s Patagonia.

  • Jeffrey

    The idea of making election day a holiday is good, Americans do not get enough time off. The Patagonia press release says: “Because no American should have to choose between a paycheck and fulfilling his or her duty as a citizen.”

    However, I found this on the website: “Employers must grant employees up to three hours paid leave to vote, unless polls are open three hours before or
    after regular working shift. Employees must request this time by noon the day before Election Day, and the employer may specify when during the working day employees may take time off.” I think many people are unaware of this, you can get paid time off to vote.

    • RBHolb

      That’s a state-by-state thing. Not every state allows it, and not every state requires paid time off (e.g. Wisconsin).

  • AmiSchwab

    sundays as election days. very effing simple.

    • Mike Worcester

      I would expand that to make it election “weekend”, both Saturday and Sunday. Taking two days every two years to decide who will represent us to run our local/regional/state/national governments is not that much to ask, is it?

  • Even if you feel that way about presidential candidates, there are usually a lot more races on the ballot than just that one. It’s difficult for me to imagine how folks can view none of those as being worth maybe an hour or so to weigh in on.