Business & Tech, Features

Massachusetts tech companies encourage employees to take Election Day off

A line of voters extends outside the Boston Public Library. PHOTO BY CHLOE GRINBERG/ DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF
A line of voters extends outside the Boston Public Library. PHOTO BY CHLOE GRINBERG/ DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

By Natasha Mascarenhas and Rebecca Zeng

Boston-based businesses on Tuesday altered their to-do lists and 9-to-5 schedules to address a more immediate concern: the presidential election.

Currently, Massachusetts law states that “no employee of a manufacturing, mechanical or mercantile establishment must work during the first two hours after the polls open if the employee applied for a leave of absence during this period.” Other states, such as Maine and New Jersey, have no specific law that requires employers to let employees have time off to vote.

Some entrepreneurs think this isn’t enough.

“We shouldn’t rely upon individuals to exercise their right in the face of passive or obstinate CEOs,” wrote Hunter Walk, a partner at Homebrew, a San Francisco-based venture capital firm, in an August blog post about voter turnout.

Walk, with the help of the Porch Brothers, made up of brother duo Ethan and Dylan Eirinberg, created a campaign to motivate employers to treat Election Day as an “unofficial holiday.” They called it “Take Off Election Day.”

The campaign released a crowd-sourced list of companies that give employees time off to vote on Election Day.

“For too long the tech community has been accused of apathy around social issues,” Walk wrote in his post. “I know this to not be the case from my daily interactions with passionate entrepreneurs.”

Another campaign that promoted civic engagement was “Take Tuesday,” founded by Noah Fradin, a product development employee at in Seattle.

“We believe that the best election is one that is most representative of the population,” Fradin said in a phone interview with The Daily Free Press. “We should make it easier to vote by giving time off … [since work is] one of the major reasons why people don’t go out to vote … it could make a real impact.”

Among the national list of companies, a handful of Boston-based small tech businesses participated.

Chris Dolan, the chief technical officer at ANSWR, a cloud-based company in Boston that helps other businesses share information, spearheaded his company’s effort to give their employees Election Day off. He agreed that work is a major obstacle to voter turnout.

“The biggest thing that I saw, and I’ve been with a few different companies, is that it’s hard for people for people to go and vote,” Dolan said. “Especially for people who commute long distances, if they have to be at work by a certain time.”

Some companies have stepped up to support high turnout as a result of their vested interests, such as immigration and international development.

Flybridge Capital Partners, an early-stage venture capital firm, encouraged employees to take the day off, or part of the day off, to go to the polls, according to Kate Castle, the vice president of marketing for the company.

“We invest in early stage entrepreneurs, we think that there’s a lot at stake in terms of impact it could have on the entrepreneur community,” Castle said.

Dare to Innovate, a youth-based company that works to end unemployment through investment in West Africa’s entrepreneurs, is pushing their full-time American employees to take advantage of absentee ballots, according to the company’s co-founder and CEO, Meghan McCormick.

“It’s a very important election [for] people that are voting in the field of international development,” McCormick said. “We have taken the stance that our employees can take whatever time they need in order to vote.”

The company allowed individuals to charge travel to the company if they need it in order to mail in their ballots, she added.

Wise Systems, a small logistical technology firm based in Cambridge, expressed hope that their employees will vote early and meet deadlines. Jemel Derbali, the co-founder of Wise Systems, argued that even small changes in company policy can “shape the lives of the employees that are its heartbeat.”

“Half of [our] employees are not citizens,” Derbali wrote in an email. “The prominence of the debate around immigration really highlighted for us the importance of this election.”

Within the Boston tech community, the effort to increase voting has mainly been allocated to smaller businesses, according to the campaign lists.

“I think looking at it from a macro standpoint, at all small businesses, we value creating a culture that prioritizes all sorts of conversation,” said Giuseppe Stuto, the co-founder and CEO of SmackHigh, a mobile communications platform featured in the Take Off Election Day campaign list. “Not only do we want to be vocal, we want to show it. So when we do have a discussion, either at a meeting or in passive conversation, everyone feels like they are involved in the culture.”

A portion of large businesses in the area, such as iRobot Corporation, Localytics and Actifio either declined to comment or did not respond to press inquiries regarding employee encouragement to vote. Charlie Vaida, the senior manager of corporate communications at iRobot, wrote in an email that he did not have a statement to provide regarding Election Day efforts.

Endurance International Group, a large tech company based in Burlington, is not formally participating in the campaign but is promoting turnout.

“While we are not giving employees the day off, we have a generous and flexible PTO (Paid Time Off) policy,” Lark-Marie Anton, executive vice president of communications and branding at Endurance, wrote in an email. “[We] are encouraging all employees (across our offices nationwide) to go to the polls and execute their right to vote.”

For future elections, the creator of the Take Tuesday campaign expressed his wish for an even more widespread movement.

“Hopefully going forward there will be some sort of support on the political side to make it a national holiday or make it weekend voting,” Fradin said. “Anything that we can do to make it easier for people to vote is important and should be done.”

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