The U.S. has relatively low voter turnout compared to other developed nations, in part perhaps because we make it pretty hard to vote. Instead of holding elections on the weekend, or declaring a national holiday on Election Day — which is always the Tuesday after the first Monday in November — the United States leaves getting to the polls up to the individual.
Even ducking out of work to vote isn’t a guaranteed right. There is no federal law that says that your employer has to allow you to leave the workplace in order to vote. States make their own determinations, with some mandating paid or unpaid leave and others no leave at all.
Does Your State Mandate Voting Leave?
HR 360 has an interactive map of state laws regarding voting leave requirements. They note, however, that some states have additional rules restricting those rights.
For example, in Alabama, employers are required to give workers one hour off to vote, but only “if the hours of work of the employee commence at least two hours after the opening of the polls or end at least one hour prior to the closing of the polls,” according to WorkplaceFairness.org. In addition, the law doesn’t specify whether that leave is paid — or stipulate an enforcement method, should employers try to restrict workers’ rights. (To look up your state’s rights and restrictions, see this chart.)
Will Your Employer Let You Leave Work Anyway?
If your state doesn’t mandate paid or unpaid leave for voting, you might find some help from an unexpected source: your employer.
“You give your people July 4th off in order to celebrate the beginnings of our democracy,” writes Jessica Stillman at Inc, to employers, “Should you also consider giving them November 8th off this year in order to participate in its continuation?”
Walk and others say yes.
What If You Really Can’t Leave Work?
Of course, not every employer will be sympathetic to a request to leave work, even for a few hours and to do your civic duty. Furthermore, not everyone works in an office. If you operate heavy machinery or care for sick people, it’s hard to press pause and get to the polls.
In this case, your best bet in the future might be an absentee ballot. Today, you need to know when the polls close in your area, to coordinate your schedule. Whenever and however you manage it, the most important thing is to get out there and vote.
Note: if you have problems voting, don’t wait: notify a poll worker immediately. If your problem isn’t resolved, contact one of these hotlines.
Tell Us What You Think
Do you think employers should do more to help workers get to the polls — or would you like to see a national holiday on Election Day? We want to hear from you. Tell us your thoughts in the comments or join the conversation on Twitter.