Tuesday, Sept. 1, marked National Poll Worker Recruitment Day, and the U.S. is facing a shortage of 250,000 poll workers for the 2020 election, as many at-risk individuals are opting out of serving this year because of health concerns amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
To engage field employees across the country in the voting process and ensure that polling sites operate efficiently this year, Old Navy announced it will pay its store employees who wish to work the polls on Election Day in November. The retailer is working with the Civic Alliance, a nonpartisan coalition of businesses encouraging voter turnout, and Power the Polls, a nonpartisan initiative to recruit poll workers for the 2020 U.S. presidential election to ensure a safe and fair election for all voters. The Civic Alliance is leading all corporate partnerships for Power the Polls in a national effort to enlist a new wave of poll workers.
"Voting is for everyone, regardless of beliefs or affiliations, and we believe we are all better when we engage in the process," a company spokesperson tells Fortune. "We felt this opportunity was a new and unique way to provide the opportunity and encouragement to our employees in stores across the country to become more involved in the democratic process without worrying about sacrificing a shift at work. This election has the potential for a historic turnout, and our teams can help make a difference in our communities."
The initiative is completely voluntary, and it is the first time the company has conducted an event like this. Old Navy field employees will be able to apply to join Power the Polls through internal communication channels. Upon completing the application, Power the Polls will connect individuals with their local counties to continue the process. Poll workers are ultimately selected by the election commissioner of each county, depending on the needs of the jurisdiction.
Old Navy says it will compensate associates who serve as poll workers with a day of pay, regardless of whether they are scheduled to work on Tuesday, Nov. 3. Employees who serve at voting sites can also be paid by their county election commission, and it won't conflict with wages paid out by Old Navy. (Local jurisdictions often pay poll workers a stipend via check for participation. In some cases, poll working may be voluntary and unpaid.)
Old Navy says all employees are welcome to apply to serve as poll workers in their communities, but pay coverage is available only for in-store, hourly employees, not employees on the corporate side of the company. The retailer is also offering shift coverage on Election Day for store employees who cannot or do not want to work at polling sites, but still need time to vote. Store managers will be directed to work with their teams to provide up to three hours of paid time off on Election Day to allow employees to cast their ballots in person. And the company says Nov. 3 will be designated as a "no meetings day" for employees who work in corporate functions to provide flexibility to vote in person and/or to serve locally, as best fits their schedules.
"As a company, we believe that participating in the democratic process is a vital right, and we are committed to removing roadblocks so employees don’t have to choose between serving or voting and work," says a spokesperson for Old Navy.
According to Power the Polls, most poll workers in the U.S. are over the age of 60. But that demographic is also much more at risk of severe health problems if one contracts COVID-19. To mitigate that issue, Power the Polls is focusing on recruiting healthy, low-risk candidates without preexisting conditions to ensure that those workers who would be most susceptible to the worst effects of the coronavirus are given the space to take care of their health, while still keeping polling sites open for in-person voting.