What rights do you have when it comes to getting time off work to vote on Election Day?

Posted at 12:12 PM, Oct 14, 2020

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Unlike in many parts of the world, Election Day in America isn’t a day most people get off from work or school, and it’s not for a lack of trying in the past.

“There've been several efforts to make it a holiday, at least for the five previous Congresses, including this one,” said Matthew Weil, who runs The Elections Project at the Bipartisan Policy Center.

Those proposed bills to make Election Day a federal holiday have gone nowhere though.

Coincidentally, America also has one of the lowest voter participation rates in the developed world, which was about 56 percent in 2016.

Over the years, though, some states have made it a state or civic holiday, most recently this year in Illinois and Virginia. In California, state law requires employers to give employees at least two paid hours to vote on Election Day. However, that’s not the case in most places.

Weil said whether or not employers need to give you time to vote on Election Day, varies state by state.

“In states that don't have robust voting by mail options, or early voting options, Election Day being the only option isn't good,” Weil said. “The good news is the trend has been toward expanding options over the past 10 years.”

Those options include early voting, which millions of voters have already done in the 2020 election, including Kevin Jackson in Ohio.

“Don’t just wait. Plan your vote,” Jackson said. “Get down here and get it done.”

The key to moving forward, experts say, is for all states to offer as many opportunities to vote as possible. Those changes could spread even more now because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I think it's got to be something that we're just not going back to how we used to vote,” said Weil. “I think that this will accelerate changes going forward.”

Recently, some high-profile employers like Coca-Cola and Twitter, as well as universities like Brown and American, have decided to give Election Day off to their employees and students, not just so they can vote, but to also encourage them to volunteer as poll workers.