WASHINGTON, D.C. (June 10, 2020)—With an increasing sense of urgency as uncertainty around COVID-19 lingers and protests erupt around the country, hundreds of business leaders have signed a letter urging federal lawmakers to provide funding to states to expand voting by mail and early in-person voting for this year’s elections.
The message is simple: states need funding for necessary improvements as soon as possible, or the country will not be able to conduct a safe and credible election in November. If Congress takes action now, the country does not have to sacrifice the right to vote to protect public safety.
“The right to vote is guaranteed by the Constitution and is essential for a functioning democracy,” said Joey Bergstein, CEO of Seventh Generation. “Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, many voters, particularly low-income voters and voters of color, faced unnecessary challenges to casting a ballot. The pandemic has further revealed deep structural inequities in our society. The changes we are calling for will help to ensure that the 2020 election is safe, secure, and accessible for all voters.”
The letter, which is addressed to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, urges congressional leaders to appropriate $3.6 billion in additional funding to states and territories to expand secure absentee ballot systems and extend early in-person voting.
"Voting is a fundamental right in this country and we shouldn't have to sacrifice health and safety to cast ballots on Election Day,” said Warby Parker Co-founder and Co-CEO Dave Gilboa.
“So many have sacrificed so much for our right to vote. We will do everything in our power to protect the right to vote for our employees and community and to ensure their voices are heard in November,” added Neil Blumenthal, co-founder and co-CEO of Warby Parker.
In addition to Seventh Generation and Warby Parker, notable signatories include Ben & Jerry’s, Comedy Central, Cox Enterprises, ECOS, Eileen Fisher, Legacy Vacation Resorts, MTV, New Belgium Brewing, Patagonia, and Unilever. The letter has been signed by 137 companies so far, representing more than 103,000 employees and $73 billion in annual revenue. The letter also includes signatures from state and local business groups representing roughly 10,000 small and mid-sized companies from across the country.
The initiative is spearheaded by Business for America (BFA), a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that mobilizes civic-minded businesses to support popular bipartisan policy solutions that encourage voter participation, ensure election integrity, reduce political polarization, and strengthen representative democracy. Not only is a well-functioning democracy vital to a competitive economy; it is also foundational to justice and liberty.
“CEOs want to protect their employees’ voices at the ballot box,” said Business for America Founder and CEO Sarah Bonk, a former senior manager at Apple. “They are troubled that, if we do nothing, many voters will not receive their requested absentee ballots and polling places will be overcrowded, disenfranchising voters with long lines while putting public health at risk. Every business leader who wants our country to avoid calamity on Election Day needs to join our call for funding to ensure states have the resources necessary to run a safe, secure, accessible, and accurate election this fall.”
The $2 trillion relief package signed into law by President Trump on March 27 included $400 million in grants to help states run their elections during COVID-19. However, it is not enough to deal with a massive surge in absentee ballot requests or the need for social distancing at the polls during what will likely be an election with record turnout. Funding is also necessary to ensure that the ballots are tabulated quickly and accurately, so the election results are credible and resistant to legal challenges regardless of who wins. Failure to act could lead to chaos and deepen public distrust in government.
“We need to strengthen our democracy by making it easier—and safer—to vote, because everything else depends on that,” said Rose Marcario, president and CEO of Patagonia. “Voting in this country was already too difficult before the pandemic and participation was already too low, but the virus has further exacerbated the problem. As we all learned from the Wisconsin primary debacle, people shouldn’t have to risk their safety, or that of others, to participate in an election.”
“We’ve worked very hard to protect the health and safety of our employees at our ice cream factories and corporate headquarters,” said Matthew McCarthy, CEO of Ben & Jerry’s. “I am frightened by the prospect of our employees and people around the country having to choose between their right to vote and the very real threat to the health of themselves, their families, fellow employees and our democracy.”
An April 30 report detailing the funding necessary for state and local governments to ensure safe elections reveals that local jurisdictions require the overwhelming majority of funding (in some cases up to 90%). The additional funding will support changed voter behavior (an estimated 30 to 40% more voters registering online or requesting an absentee ballot), protect voters and election workers (e.g., providing PPE, setting up curbside polling, cleaning voting spaces), and educate the public about changes (e.g., changed polling locations). This report represents the consensus of an ideologically diverse group of organizations.
As follow up to the federal effort, Business for America is mobilizing businesses in several key states to support the policy and technology changes that are best suited for each state’s unique election setup.
“Across the country, state and local election officials from both major parties are asking for this funding,” says Business for America’s National Policy Director Richard Eidlin. “In addition, they need the support of their governors and state legislatures to update election rules to enable the administration of safe, secure elections with credible results. Election integrity and voter safety are not partisan issues. No one wants to be the state with the ‘hanging chads’ in 2020.”
To read the full letter and view the list of signatories, visit bfa.us/votesafe.
About Business for America
Business for America is a nonpartisan network of business leaders advancing solutions to boost civic engagement, reduce political polarization, and modernize government. A well-functioning democracy will help foster a more competitive, innovative business climate in America. Businesses interested in getting involved can learn more at bfa.us.