Uber Joins Lyft in Corporate America’s Voter Turnout Drive

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By Andrea Vittorio

Uber Technologies Inc. has joined rival ride-hailing firm Lyft Inc. in offering voters a ride to the polls as Election Day enthusiasm hits a high point.

The two companies are part of an unprecedented drive by corporate America to get out the vote for November’s midterm elections. Some of the companies’ voter turnout efforts are new this year, like Uber’s free-ride offer, while other companies say they’ve encouraged voting before, but not at this scale.

“Once upon a time, Americans had the best relationship with civic institutions,” said Mike Ward of the nonprofit Democracy Works. “Now Americans have really good relationships with brands.”

Ward directs the nonprofit’s work with a corporate coalition known as the TurboVote Challenge, launched in 2016 by Starbucks Corp., Target Corp., and a handful of other companies. It’s grown to about 40 companies, including Uber and Lyft.

The companies in the group have helped sign up more than 5 million voters and potential voters. Those who sign up get a walk-through of the process for registering to vote in their state. If they’re already registered, they can get election reminders and assistance with absentee ballots.

The challenge’s goal is to help voter turnout reach 80 percent by 2024. Just over 60 percent of eligible voters reported casting a ballot in the 2016 presidential election, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Time Off to Vote

Patagonia Inc., which gave its employees paid time off to vote in 2016, has launched a “Time to Vote” campaign urging other companies to do the same. “This year, we’re doing it again,” Patagonia’s chief executive officer Rose Marcario wrote in a recent LinkedIn post. “And this time, we’re actively encouraging other companies to join us.”

Only about four in 10 U.S. employers offer paid leave for voting, according to a 2017 survey by Bloomberg Law. The more than 850 human resources executives and professionals surveyed were twice as likely to report paying employees who miss work to serve on a jury or for other court-related duties.

Patagonia, which has taken on Trump administration policies for national parks, says the range of companies involved in the campaign shows it’s nonpartisan. Time to Vote has gotten buy-in from close to 140 other companies, including Walmart Inc., Tyson Foods Inc., and LeviStrauss & Co.

“We’re pleased to join so many others in supporting the right to vote,” Walmart spokesman Justin Rushing told Bloomberg Law.

Not all of the companies involved in Time to Vote are offering voting leave. Some, like Walmart, are giving their employees resources on voter registration, early voting and absentee ballots, and polling places and hours. Lyft is helping its drivers figure out how they can vote but also encouraging them to drive others to the ballot box.

Voter Turnout

Voter turnout for midterm elections tends to be lower than in presidential races. But this year, Americans are more enthusiastic about voting than during any midterm in more than two decades, with many citing which party controls Congress as a critical factor, according to a recent survey by the Pew Research Center.

“Decisions get made by those who show up,” Uber’s chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi wrote in an Oct. 4 blog post. “This Election Day, Uber will be doing what we can to make it easier for people to do just that.”

Uber is partnering with Democracy Works and #VoteTogether to give out free-ride codes for anyone in the U.S. to use on Election Day. Its offer came about a week after Lyft pledged to provide half-off rides to polling places. Lyft is also working with groups such as Voto Latino and the National Federation of the Blind to give free rides to voters in underserved communities.

“Lyft takes our civic responsibility seriously,” John Zimmer, the company’s co-founder and president, said in a Sept. 24 statement. Transportation problems were one of the top 10 reasons registered voters didn’t turn out for the 2016 election, according to a Pew analysis of Census Bureau data.

The TurboVote Challenge also includes efforts by companies such as Alphabet Inc.'s Google to leverage social media to encourage voter registration. On National Voter Registration Day, which was Sept. 25, the logo on the search engine’s homepage gave information on how to register and the deadlines for different states.

The companies trying to turn out the vote say they’re motivated by their customers and employees, not politics. American adults are more likely to buy from a company that has encouraged people to register and vote, according to a recent Democracy Works poll. Those surveyed are also more likely to recommend that company to friends and family or to work for that company.

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