How to Request Time Off to Vote

by Dana George | Updated July 25, 2021 - First published on Oct. 10, 2020

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A woman and man standing next to each other at two voting booths separated by dividers.

Image source: Getty Images

The best way to ensure your vote counts this election day is to plan ahead.

If you are scheduled to work on Nov. 3, 2020, you have the right to request time off to do your civic duty. Although federal law does not require your employer to approve time off to vote, the majority of states do.

Working within your state laws

How much time you are granted away from the workplace depends on your state. For example, Georgia and Illinois allow two hours, while Kentucky allows four. Whether your employer will pay you for your time at the polls also depends on your state.

The following states (and the District of Columbia) do not require employers to provide time off for voting:

  • Florida
  • Idaho
  • Indiana
  • Louisiana
  • Maine
  • Michigan
  • Mississippi
  • Montana
  • New Jersey
  • North Carolina
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • South Carolina
  • Vermont
  • Virginia
  • Washington

If you live in one of these states and need time off during regular work hours to vote, speak with human resources to learn more about company policy. Your company may have its own voting strategy in place. If not, consider early voting or voting by mail (more on that later).

Provide notification

Workplace Fairness has a breakdown of how much time (and pay) employers in each state are required to offer. It is a good way to learn how much time you are owed before communicating with your employer. It also helps you budget, just in case there will be a bit less going into your bank account that week.

Let your employer know as soon as possible that you intend to vote during regular work hours. Even if you speak in person, provide your employer with written notification (and keep a copy for yourself in case a question arises). Your heads-up allows your employer time to arrange for someone else to cover your duties while you're gone.

You can make it even easier by asking a colleague to cover for you, then covering for your colleague while they take time to vote.

Stay cool

It's easy to lose your cool in these hyper-partisan times. Try to keep all conversations with your employer neutral and polite. There is truth to the adage, "You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar." Your ultimate goal is to leave work long enough to get to the polling place and do your duty.

Alternatives

The beauty of planning is that you have time to vote early or vote by mail. The National Conference of State Legislatures provides a list of states that offer early voting, along with where voting takes place and when voting begins. If your state is not listed, call your local board of elections. It is possible that early voting has been added to minimize the risks of COVID-19 on election day.

Ballotpedia provides an easy-to-follow chart that breaks down the basics for voting by mail in each state. If your state does not automatically send you a vote-by-mail ballot, request one right away. Once you receive your ballot, mark it carefully, and send it back in as early as possible.

Concerns

It is 2020, so it would not be natural if Americans were only worried about one thing. There is serious concern regarding the safety of voters standing in line for hours in this age of COVID-19. Some voters are now concerned that voting by mail leads to widespread fraud, a claim President Trump has made repeatedly.

National Public Radio (NPR) took a deep dive into voting by mail and found little (if any) reason for concern. It is a practice that has been around since the Civil War, when soldiers voted from the battlefield. Everyday people took advantage of absentee voting laws as early as the late 1800s.

Given all the rhetoric surrounding the security of mail-in ballots, it comes as no surprise that others have recently studied the issue. Charles Stewart, director of the MIT Election Data and Science Lab, and Amber McReynolds, CEO of the National Vote at Home Institute, have studied the incidence of mail-in ballot fraud. According to the duo, out of the 250 million ballots that have been cast by mail nationwide over the past 20 years, there have been a mere 143 convictions for election fraud. That represents a fraud rate of 0.00006%. Further, a recent Pew Research Center poll found that more than 70% of Americans believe that any American who wants to vote by mail should be allowed to.

The Postal Service recommends that you mail your ballot back at least one week before your state's deadline. For peace of mind, you may want to allow more time for it to arrive. Thirty-nine states and the District of Columbia offer systems that allow voters to track the progress of their ballots.

Whether you work with your employer to get time off to vote or take advantage of another voting method, it feels good to do your part for democracy. Perhaps all states will eventually take a page from Puerto Rico's book and make election day an official holiday, allowing all citizens to more easily make their voices heard.

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