Michael Kieschnick, President of CREDO, the mobile phone, long distance, and credit card company with very progressive values, makes a plea for corporate engagement in civic engagement when it comes to elections in an op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle. Here’s an excerpt:
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, www.govote.org.
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.
Kieschnick goes on to make a convincing case for businesses to be good citizens when it comes to voting. His company, CREDO, is a perfect example of what can be done when a business goes whole-hog into being a good corporate citizen.
Interestingly, after reading Kieschnick’s piece, I went to the New York Times website was confronted by a giant run of ads by Starbucks. The company is offering a free cup of coffee to anyone who comes in and says they voted on November 4th. The ads all link to this YouTube video, where the pitch is made in 60 seconds:
Now this might be the sort of thing that Kieschnick describes in the first sentence of the passage I quoted above, though on a smaller scale than he probably meant it. Starbucks’ benefit of giving people free cups of coffee is that it gets people tasting their product and in the habit of getting coffee from their stores. But I actually think this is a more genuine election move. The ad is powerful and straightforward. The ad buy looks huge. And rather than bringing people who click through the ad to a Starbucks.com splash page that captures email addresses, the ad links straight to YouTube. This is either a really powerful commitment to not put the filter of business between consumers and their message, or it’s that Starbucks just doesn’t get some of the basics of online advertising. I like to think it’s the former that’s true.
Ben and Jerry’s is also giving away free ice cream on election day.
Free things are great and maybe some people will decide that the incentive of getting a free cup of coffee and a free ice cream cone is enough to wait in line and vote in this election. But I’d hope that the executives at Starbucks and Ben & Jerry’s take a look at Kieschnick’s op-ed and follow his path for greater corporate engagement in growing civic engagement in this country. Businesses have the potential to help redefine how Americans experience election day for the better. I, for one, get tired of hearing every two years stories of lines extending blocks from polling places and voters having to leave without voting so they can get to work on time. A shift in business leaders’ attitudes towards election day and how we relate to voting would have great impact on what the government does to encourage easier and wider-spread voting in the future.
Disclosure: I used to consult for CREDO Action on their anti-warrantless wiretapping campaign.
[ Find Your Polling Place | Voting Info For Your State | Know Your Voting Rights | Report Voting Problems ]