May 11, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Inside the effort to get U.S. companies to popularize early voting

Stacks of empty envelopes from mail-in-ballots are stacked on a table.

Envelopes from mail-in ballots in Washington state in March. Photo: Jason Redmond/AFP via Getty Images

Forces behind a “Vote Early Day 2020” initiative are launching a paid media campaign this week to get U.S. companies to encourage people to seek absentee ballots or vote early in person amid the coronavirus threat.

Driving the news: Businesses, advocates and bipartisan election officials behind the effort will run a $100,000 ad on Tuesday in the Wall Street Journal addressed "Dear CEOs and Business Leaders," organizers tell Axios.

Be smart: They're banking on the idea that consumers will activate on messages from brands they rely on — and that businesses will see upsides to taking on this kind of leadership role.

  • Axios' own polling with Ipsos reflects working Americans' trust in their employers to look out for their interests in the pandemic.
  • Vote Early Day counts more than 100 partners, but it anticipates thousands of partners by the fall.

Details: The nonpartisan group was announced in March and has a website with information to help voters in each state learn what their early-voting options are.

It includes representatives from MTV and ViacomCBS, Twitter, BET, Univision, Snapchat, and other media and technology outlets; nonprofit groups such as the League of Women Voters; and companies including Levi Strauss & Co., Kenneth Cole, Patagonia, REI and Sweetgreen.

  • Its ad asks business leaders to "help employees, customers, friends and family understand the many ways they can vote safely, securely and early" and says that "no one should have to choose between casting a ballot and preserving their health."
  • California's Secretary of State Alex Padilla, a Democrat, and Georgia's Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, are members of the group's steering committee.
  • Organizers have designated Oct. 24 as Vote Early Day, and they say it should be a holiday. The general election is Nov. 3.

What they're saying: "During the 2018 midterms, hundreds of companies participated in corporate civic engagement and the United States saw the highest midterm voter turnout in a century," Vote Early Day project director Joey Wozniak and MTV's Brianna Cayo Cotter tell Axios in an email.

  • "Now, with changing rules and options like mail and in-person voting gaining significant attention due to public health concerns around COVID-19, we believe it is more important than ever for businesses to use their platforms to share current and accurate voting information with their audiences."
  • They say businesses are uniquely suited to encourage civic participation during the COVID-19 crisis because they're credible, nonpartisan messengers.

Don't forget: Many states have taken steps to expand early voting because of the virus, while some still have restrictive policies.

  • Celebrities and Michelle Obama have been engaged in efforts to expand options.
  • President Trump has spoken critically of vote-by-mail initiatives but voted absentee himself.
  • One of Trump’s campaign pollsters recently conducted research showing broad bipartisan support for expanding absentee voting.
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