The outdoor retailer Patagonia will close up shop this Election Day, and it’s urging other companies to do the same.
Four years ago, voter participation hit its lowest since World War II, with only 36 percent of the voting-age population making it to the polls. A 2014 Pew Research Center study found that voters were likely to miss the midterms because they were indifferent about voting, had trouble with the voting process or because of structural forces, like job or school schedules that couldn’t budge.
In the past, Patagonia – known for its advocacy of environmental causes – has encouraged people to vote with the planet in mind.
“This is just another step of that,” said Corley Kenna, a company spokesperson. “What’s the most impactful thing we can do in an election? That’s to get people to vote.”
Patagonia closed stores nationwide on Election Day 2016, as well as its headquarters and distribution and customer service center, and gave employees paid time off. Patagonia’s chief executive Rose Marcario wrote that “this year, we’re doing it again,” and that other companies should join in “because no American should have to choose between a paycheck and fulfilling his or her duty as a citizen.”
After the company closed for Election Day 2016, Kenna said multiple employees reached out to say that if they hadn’t had the day off, child care schedules and other conflicts would have kept them from the polls. Kenna said Patagonia wants other companies to consider how they can free up their workers on Nov. 6, even if that doesn’t mean shutting down completely.
In 2016, workers at General Motors, Ford Motor Co., Square, Hearst Publishing, Casper and Thrillist were given a paid holiday, according to CNNMoney.
“Citizenship requires something more,” Marcario wrote. “It requires supporting democracy. And democracy needs our support more than ever because it’s under attack.”
In her letter, Marcario mentioned Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and “hackers and trolls for hire” who “spread divisive propaganda” online.
“This should concern all of us, no matter our politics,” she wrote.
Environmental causes have often been a rallying cry for the company, which said it would donate all of its 2016 Black Friday sales – a whopping $10 million – to local environmental groups. The company also gives 1 percent of its annual sales goes to environmental organizations. Patagonia also joined REI, the North Face and other retailers in signing an open letter in 2017 speaking out against America’s withdrawal from the Paris climate accord under President Donald Trump.
The 2014 Pew Research Center report covered 181 registered voters who said they didn’t cast a ballot that year. Two-thirds said they didn’t vote because they didn’t have time. More than half of that group – 35 percent of the total – said conflicts with work or school schedules got in the way.
Still, the structural forces that help or hinder voters go beyond whether businesses are open on Election Day, noted Capri Cafaro, an executive in residence at American University’s School of Public Affairs. And those forces can fluctuate depending on which states voters reside.
For example, Oregon became the first state to adopt voting by mail, which may make it less crucial for workers to have Election Day off. And in Ohio, where Cafaro served as a state senator for nine years, early voting lasts much longer than other states across the country, she said.
Plus, voter turnout in state and local races tends to be lower, separate and apart from access to the ballot box, Cafaro said.
“Anything that makes voting easier is going to help turnout,” Cafaro said, “but there are so many other factors, including what state you live in, and what other kinds of voting options you have.”
The Washington Post’s Abha Bhattarai and Christopher Ingraham contributed to this report.