Employers, get out the vote!

Long lines for the start of early voting snaked around the parkingat the Metropolitan Multi-Service Center near downtown Houston Monday, October 22, 2018. Photo by MICHAEL STRAVATO

Although Texas has seen record voter registration this year, in the last midterm elections eligible Texas voters turned out at a rate of 34 percent: dead last for U.S. states. As the voice of 1,200 local businesses employing more than 165,000 North Texans, we at the Plano Chamber of Commerce think it’s important to know why Texans — our employees — neglect this sacred American right and what employers can do to make a difference.

There are myriad factors affecting Texas voter apathy: Texas has a younger population and younger people are less likely to vote. Texas has a more transitory population and  housing instability decreases citizen engagement and voter participation rates. And Texas’ history of being largely controlled by a single political party means viable candidate choices are limited: Texas was primarily controlled by Democrats until the early 1990s. Since 1994, Republicans have held every statewide elected position. This single-party dominance creates voter apathy.

One of the most powerful voices for voter turnout is one that is seldom heard: employers. We have the unique opportunity to help increase voter turnout simply by encouraging our employees to head to the polls. In fact, studies show that employees are 65 percent more likely to vote if their employers emphasize its importance.

Employers are in a unique position to educate and engage younger and more transient citizens. Employers need to serve as a nonpartisan voice during the election cycle, when often times it feels like partisan-based messaging dominates. With more candidate choices, voters have more options to consider and need nonbiased information to make better decisions.

Get your employees engaged in the political process by sharing important voting dates. Remind your team to register to vote before the deadline and to update their registration if they have moved since the last election. Hold regular voting registration drives before primary, midterm, general and local elections to give all employees a chance to vote. Educate employees on early voting sites and practices and dispel myths like:

  • One vote won’t make a difference.
  • Campaign literature is 100 percent truthful.
  • If I moved just before the election, I'm not eligible to vote.
  • If I don't have a driver's license, I cannot vote.
  • I cannot vote if I have the wrong address on my driver's license or photo ID.

Provide voter resources to help your employees research candidates and issues before they cast their ballots. Fifty-two percent of employees who received voting information from their employers said it led them to register to vote. If there are issues or policies that are critical to your business, you can educate your employees on these topics and their importance.

But it is critical that employers encourage employees to vote, not how to vote, and do not offer incentives to vote. While well-intentioned, we do not recommend employers hosting events or creating programs that reward employees for showing their “I Voted” sticker. In addition to potentially pressuring employees to vote, these rewards may also alienate employees who are not eligible to vote.

While creating your company’s Get Out the Vote campaign, consider contacting the Texas Ethics Commission at 512-463-5800 with any questions or concerns.

Despite historically low voter turnout, there are encouraging signs that the 2018 midterm elections could see record numbers at the polls: In Collin County, pre-election voter registrations are up more than 200 percent compared to the last midterms. The number of registered voters here has increased by 100,000 over the past four years, now reaching a total of 580,000. And now with more viable candidate choices than ever before for many local and most state and federal offices, it’s important that the voices of your employees and coworkers are heard loud and clear.

Disclosure: The Plano Chamber of Commerce has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

Jeff Beckley

Chair, Plano Chamber of Commerce