Companies encourage workers to register and vote

Companies encourage workers to register and vote

By @RoederDavid — 09/28/2020

Ferrara corporate office in downtown Chicago

“Like all Americans, our companies have unique values. Yet we are united in envisioning a future where everyone is engaged in civics, starting with voting in every election.”

So reads part of a pledge that members of the national Civic Alliance are asked to support. The members are corporations that have agreed to provide their workers nonpartisan information about registering to vote, casting ballots, and finding reliable facts about candidates and issues.

To date, 246 companies in the U.S. representing 3.7 million employees have taken the pledge, according to the alliance. Anything they can do in this regard will be welcome.

The word “civics” in that pledge made me stop short. You don’t see it much these days; “Civic” as in a civic center or civic organization is common, but “civics,” as in a curriculum about or knowledge of the rights and responsibilities of citizenship, not so much. It’s not popular in schools anymore.

Illinois made news in 2015 when it required a semester, a whole half year, of civics to graduate high school. But the law made Illinois more of a follower than a leader. The left-wing Center for American Progress said in 2018 that 30 other states require a half year of civics or U.S. government instruction, and 10 states have no requirement at all.

Schools just aren’t doing the job here, and you can see the results when a reputable outfit such as the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania releases a poll, as it did in 2017, revealing that one in three Americans can’t name a single branch of the federal government.

Ignorance is bipartisan. Think of the protesters in San Francisco who in June tore down a statue of Ulysses S. Grant, or the survey of Republicans last year that showed they rate Donald Trump higher than Abraham Lincoln.

Into this void steps private employers such as Chicago’s Ferrara Candy, known for its Lemonheads, Nerds and Brach’s Candy Corn, among other guilty pleasures.

Ferrara has taken the Civic Alliance pledge and hopes to spread the voter involvement message to its 3,000 employees in the Chicago area and another 3,000 elsewhere in the U.S., said Sarah Kittel, the company’s head of corporate affairs.

“Essentially, the goal is to have employees feel well-equipped to engage with the democratic process,” she said.

The company had events Tuesday in conjunction with National Voter Registration Day and continues to maintain computer links at its various sites where workers can access the correct registration agency for where they live. Kittel said the information is provided by I Am A Voter, one of several digital resources that partner with the Civic Alliance.

She said Ferrara has declared Election Day, Nov. 3, as a national day of service, with employees getting a day off with pay if they work as an election judge or poll watcher, provided it can be scheduled with supervisors. For office-based staff, who might be harder to reach in the work-from-home era, the message is getting out with the company’s digital communications tools, Kittel said.

Given the political rhetoric, Kittel said employees have had questions about the safety of voting during COVID-19 and about whether mail-in ballots are secure. Trump has made groundless statements that mail-in ballots are ripe for fraud.

“We don’t claim to be an authority on all things. We can provide employees with information about what works for them,” she said.

Other Chicago companies that have joined the alliance include Mondelez International, McDonald’s and Intelligentsia coffee. Nationwide, the alliance includes such major employers as Amazon, Best Buy, Dow and Microsoft.

They have a lot of work ahead to rev up voter participation. The Pew Research Center has found if you consider the entire voting-age population and not just those who have registered, the turnout rate in presidential elections is just over 50%, and less than that in non-presidential years. The U.S. rates run low when compared with those in other developed nations that are democracies, Pew found.

“We believe an act of democracy is good for business, and an engaged business community is good for democracy,” Kittel said.

Businesses usually “engage” with democracy via campaign contributions and special-interest spending. Maybe a nudge from capitalism can persuade more people to act as their own special interest.

Via Chicago Sun Times

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