How business can help insure a smooth election

Michael Kieschnick // Published November 3, 2008 in San Francisco Chronicle
With election day tomorrow, despite this year's high profile presidential race, millions of Americans will not vote - and hundreds of thousands of votes that are cast will not be counted.

Some people don't know that they can ask for time off from work to vote. Others do not know where to vote. Early reports of long lines and equipment malfunctions may keep some voters home altogether. Incidents of voter suppression may lead millions of voters to find their votes challenged and not counted.

Yet each vote not cast and not counted diminishes the strength of our democracy.

How is this the business community's business? Many companies involve themselves in elections to gain a competitive advantage. A rare few speak out on issues of fundamental importance to their employees and customers, such as Patagonia on the environment or Apple on same-sex marriage. But there is much more that can be done easily, effectively and efficiently by the business community, to help prevent a bumpy election.

First, every company could send an e-mail to every one of its customers to encourage them to vote. A reminder to vote can be easily put into every online sales transaction confirmation and in-person receipt. Remind all employees that your company supports his or her right to vote and assure them this means that they can take time off from work to do so. Give everyone who works at your company a copy of a sample ballot or nonpartisan voter guide. And help answer the most common question - where do I vote? - by widely distributing the nonpartisan, online resource,

Make sure you signal your company's commitment to its civic duty to ensure a fair election in every part of your organizational chart. Encourage your managers to instruct your customer service staff and receptionists to close every conversation with a friendly reminder to vote. Offer to lend company vehicles - even the CEO's limo, if you have one - to local organizations that offer rides to polling places for those without transportation. And urge your company's lawyers to volunteer with the nonpartisan Election Protection Coalition, a group of attorneys and volunteers ready to answer questions to help voters having difficulty voting at the polls.

Good corporate citizens' civic duty doesn't end with election day. Ask your employees if they experienced any trouble when they tried to vote and, if so, find out the nature of their difficulties. As soon as you learn of any irregularities, speak out as a business leader against any form of voter suppression.

To do our part to ensure fair elections in the United States far beyond the one on Tuesday, I call on other business leaders and citizens alike to join us in a call for universal voter registration. Today's technology and civic sophistication should make voter registration an automatic public function, much the way we already handle other basic public functions in our democracy, such as issuing Social Security numbers or driver's licenses. Voter registration should be open to every eligible citizen, not a political tug of war.

We have found that our customers appreciate our efforts like these and like hearing from us on matters of civic importance. If every company, just for one day, added a few lines of code to every e-mail and a few words to every sales call or customer service transaction, it would cost essentially nothing. But the gift to our democracy would be priceless.

Michael Kieschnick is president of CREDO Mobile, a San Francisco phone carrier committed to building a just and sustainable world, whose online tools helped more than 3 million U.S. voters complete voter registration applications since 2003.

This article appeared on page B - 5 of the San Francisco Chronicle