In the days and weeks following this November's election, operatives from one of the presidential campaigns will be licking their wounds and asking themselves: "What more could I have done?" What more could I have done to not only energize a few more base voters in the state that got away, but ensure they got to the polls as well? What more could I have done to not only persuade a few more swing voters in battleground states to like my guy but to make sure they voted for him -- and delivered victory -- as well? What more could I have done to make sure the new voters the campaign registered actually stepped inside of the voting booth for the first time and made history? One simple but overlooked answer to these questions is to ensure voters have time to vote on Election Day.
Conventional wisdom suggests that registered voters do not participate in an election because they are not motivated to vote or have had their votes suppressed. Great effort and expense goes into piquing their interest and making sure their democratic rights are protected. While these are important steps in turning out the vote, they are not in fact the top reason why voters do not vote. According to the Census Bureau, the number one reason why voters do not vote is because they simply run out of time on Election Day. In 2008, lack of time kept nearly 2.7 million people from voting. This included nearly one in four registered Hispanic nonvoters, one in five 18 to 24-year-olds, and more than sixteen percent of African Americans. By comparison, less than two million registered nonvoters in 2008 said they did not like the candidates or campaign issues and 1.3 million said they had registration problems or an inconvenient polling place.
Today, working Americans are putting in longer hours and having to produce more on the job. For some the workday can begin before polling stations open and end after polling stations close. For those who have jobs where casually taking time during the workday to grab coffee, check-in with friends and shop online, or run the occasional errand is easy, fitting voting into the day seems straightforward. But consider the lives of many hourly and low level workers. They only get paid for the time they spend on the clock. Many cannot take a sick day without losing a day's wages. Some do not even go to the bathroom without their supervisor's permission. For them, being an hour or two late for work or ducking out early to vote without explicit permission or help dealing with life's demands is not realistic. It can cost you money or, in extreme cases, your job. And for those barely getting through their daily family responsibilities, the time intended for voting can be easily eaten up with shuttling children to and from school and soccer, checking on an ailing parent, or the nightly rush to get dinner on the table, homework checked, and baths done before bedtime.
While early voting and no questions asked absentee voting has become easier and exercised more widely in recent elections, many people wait until Election Day to make their decision. The nation's state-based election laws only provide a patchwork of protection for people who need to take time off from work to vote. The swing state of Colorado gives voters the right to take up to two hours off work to vote if they give their employer prior notice. Employers in Ohio, the epicenter of the presidential race, cannot fire or threaten an employee for taking a reasonable amount of time off to vote. And the battleground states of Florida, Michigan, North Carolina and Pennsylvania do not offer any explicit time off to vote protections.
So what is the antidote to time silencing the voices of nearly 2.7 million voters? Americans should not only vote on November 6, they should also take practical action as friends, family members, and co-workers leading up to and on Election Day to give busy people in their lives time to vote. First, encourage busy voters in your life who do not or cannot vote early to carefully plan their Election Day schedule, and plan yours as well. If they normally work long hours or have strict workplace conditions, tell them to ask their supervisors for flexibility on Election Day, and to ask weeks before they need it. If you are a business owner, executive, or supervisor, give the workers under you flextime on Election Day -- and encourage them to use it. Organize other leaders to do the same. If you can help a colleague with some of her responsibilities on Election Day so she can come in late or leave early, do it. Offer to drive someone's children to school or after school activities, carpool with someone who normally spends hours taking public transportation, cook dinner on election night for a busy neighbor. Do anything that allows someone to free up time to get to the polls. It may seem simple, but it can mean the difference between someone voting or not, and the difference between your preferred candidate winning or losing.