Taylor Swift recently made the news when she encouraged her 112 million followers on Instagram to get to the polls. As a result, Vote.org, reported a spike in voter registration -- to the tune of 65,000 registrations in a single 24-hour period.

The "Taylor Swift Effect" may have activated a large group of people to register, but how these would-be voters are actually getting to the polls is another story.

More than forty-six percent of eligible voters did not vote in the 2016 election, according to the United States Election Project because work or school schedules did not allow them to. Other reasons they cited included missed registration deadlines, illness, and lack of transportation, among other things.

Many of Us are Directly Affected by Elections, But Cannot Cast a Vote

I should explain who I am. As the founder and CEO of littleBits, an education tech company based in New York City, our mission is to empower kids to be creators and inventors so that they can grow up to be tomorrow's changemakers. I consider myself a changemaker and an activist, but today I have a problem: I don't have a vote.

I have lived in the U.S. for 12 years--the majority of my adult life--but I am not a citizen. I am personally affected by so many of the policies being decided on every day (as a woman, a Middle Easterner, an entrepreneur, and a manufacturer), but I am completely powerless to change them. 

There is a platform through which I do have a voice: my company. I sent out an email to our team reminding them that we are nothing without our mission, and our mission is nothing without our willingness to back it. Here's an excerpt:

In our culture we stand behind our mission. The first way changemakers make change is by voting. November 6 is a very important day, for those of you that are eligible, you get a paid day off to go vote.

As a woman and an Arab I can tell you two things:

1. The right to vote should not be taken for granted.

2. Democracy should not be taken for granted.

Suddenly, I felt more useful, and so I am compelled to invite you to do the same.  

Trying to Change the World? Start with Giving Employees a Vote

While we can't account for flu season or other intangibles, tech companies can certainly take a proactive role in helping Americans participate in the democratic process:

  • Uber and Lyft announced partnerships with non-profit organizations that will provide riders with significant discounts on rides to their local polling stations -- they are giving people transportation to get to the polls.

  • As far back as 2016, tech companies like Homebrew committed to giving employees time off to vote on Election Day. More than 100 tech companies followed suit -- they are giving employees the flexibility to vote.

  • Patagonia, a company known for its commitment to employees, announced back in June that it would close stores and offices on Nov. 6 to provide a paid day-off for employees to vote -- they are giving employees time to participate in the democratic process, however they see fit.

In general, startups offer a lot of perks to keep their employees happy. Unlimited vacation, snacks, dog-friendly offices, haircut Tuesdays, laundry Fridays. But all of those perks mean nothing if we don't give our employees an opportunity to express themselves and to be heard as part of the democratic process.

There is nothing worse than not having a voice.

It's something for all tech CEOs to consider. If you're not in a position to totally cease operations on Election Day, think about giving employees paid time off to vote. Or about offering a flex day. Or even make Tuesday, November 6 a "no meetings" day. There are so many ways that tech companies can show their commitment to the voting process -- and in many cases, they are relatively easy to implement.

And while littleBits can only directly impact our own 100+ person team, we hope that by spreading the word and giving other tech CEOs some actionable ways to give their employees a vote, we can inspire action across the country. They are seemingly small efforts but from those of us who don't have a vote, I assure you they add up to something big.

Published on: Oct 26, 2018