The tech industry is taking aim at low voter turnout rates ahead of the general election this November. Leading the cause is Hunter Walk, a prominent venture capitalist and the cofounder and partner of HomeBrew, a software management system. Mr. Walk has used Twitter to encourage CEOs to send out company-wide messages encouraging staff to block off voting time on Nov. 8. Several dozen have jumped on board.
Walk is upfront about his support of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. He was also among several tech executives who signed an open letter earlier in July denouncing Trump, saying they stood against Trump's "divisive candidacy and want a candidate who embraces the ideals that built America’s technology industry.”
However, Walk is adamant that the effort to encourage the employees of the technology industry to vote is non-partisan. "Every day I encounter smart people who are working hard on companies they believe can change the world, but you ask them if they've registered to vote, if they're taking time off to vote ... they don't always have great answers," Walk told CNN Money.
Walk has since created a running list of over 80 companies supportive of the initiative, including Spotify, Survey Monkey, Thrillist, and TheSkimm. The movement has also been taken up by companies outside of the tech industry. Naja, a lingerie brand aimed at empowering women, has also agreed to give employees time to vote. The chief executive officer of Naja, Catalina Girald, tweeted that she would let employees take the whole day off if they agreed to volunteer at the polls.
The “Take Off Election Day” website was created by Dylan and Ethan Eirinberg in support of Walk’s initiative. The site features Walk’s running list of companies that support the cause as well as a form employees can fill out and send anonymously to their employer to encourage them to join the growing list.
Time off for voting is hardly a tough sell in Silicon Valley. The tech industry is situated mainly in California, which allows employees to take up to two hours of paid leave at the beginning or at the end of their shift to vote as long as employers are given two days notice.
However, not every state requires employers to allow their employees time to vote. Nineteen states do not have any voter leave laws, including Connecticut, Florida, and Virginia. Even Washington, the nation’s capital, does not have laws protecting time for employees to vote. Walk's initiative helps raise awareness around this issue in a country with relatively low voter turnout compared to other nations.
According to the Pew Research Center, approximately 53.6 percent of the eligible voting population turned out for the 2012 US election. Australia, Sweden, and Turkey routinely see about 80 percent of the eligible voting population participating in the civic activity. Factors which contribute to a higher voter turnout in other countries include mandating compulsory voting or automatically registering citizens to vote when they reach the minimum age requirement. Some countries--such as France, Germany, and India--also choose to vote on weekends or treat election day as a holiday.
Walk and the tech industry hope to accomplish through unofficial means what other countries have encouraged through official means: giving workers the flexibility to vote on election day.