The midterm elections are on November 6th and early voting is open in states across the country. A 2018 Pew Research Center survey found that 70 percent of Americans agree that high voter turnout is very important in presidential elections, and 62 percent agreed it's very important in local elections.
But only a slight majority, just 55.7 percent, of Americans over the age of 18 voted in the 2016 election. Historically, even fewer Americans vote in midterm elections. In fact, Americans vote less than the citizens of almost every other wealthy country in the world. When Pew compared voter turnout in the U.S. with that of 32 peer countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, they found that the U.S. ranks 26th, just behind Estonia.
One reason for low-voter turnout is because Americans can't get away from work. According to a survey from Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), in 2018 44 percent of U.S. employers offer their workers paid time off to vote — and that's an all-time high. In 2017, 42 percent of employers offered paid time off to vote as a benefit.
Between 2017 and 2018 the percentage of employers offering unpaid time off to vote decreased from 33 percent to 29 percent. Vanessa Hill, senior media specialist for SHRM explains that these figures likely reflect companies shifting from unpaid to paid time off policies.
"Paid time off to vote ticked up slightly from the previous year, while unpaid time off went down by 4 percent, indicating that paid time off to vote is on a slight upswing," she told CNBC Make It over email. "The big picture view of time off to vote is more complicated than combining our two stats. That's because there are many state laws about time off to vote, and many laws have different requirements. What the stats show is that some employers are going above and beyond their state laws to offer paid or unpaid leave to vote."
The subtle shift may also reflect a larger trend in companies increasing their commitment to helping their workers get to the polls. One campaign called Time to Vote has gained the support of 300 companies across the country, including Walmart, Tyson Foods and PayPal.
"The companies joining this campaign are committed to increasing voter participation through programs such as paid time off, a day without meetings and resources for mail-in ballots and early voting," said campaign organizers in a press release.
Apparel company Patagonia is among those involved in the initiative. "This campaign is nonpartisan, and it's not political," Corley Kenna, director of global communications and public relations at Patagonia, tells CNBC. "This is about supporting democracy, not supporting candidates or issues."
Kenna says that many of Patagonia's employees wouldn't have been able to vote if they didn't have the day off. "It's the right thing to do," she says.
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