Do You Get Paid Time Off Work to Vote?

Lindsay Beyerstein

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Tomorrow is Election Day. The stakes are nothing less than control of the House and the Senate. And voters in Arizona, South Carolina, South Dakota and Utah have a chance to defeat anti-union ballot initiatives that would pre-kill the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) before it ever becomes law.

Both sides are pulling out all the stops to maximize voter turnout. Small changes in turnout can have dramatic effects on electoral outcomes, especially in midterm elections where turnout rates are lower overall.

Some good news for all you busy workers out there: Finding time in your day to vote may be easier than you think. Thirty-one states guarantee employees time off to vote, at least under certain conditions. In 23 of these states, employees are entitled to paid time off to vote. These include the battleground states of Alaska, Arizona, Nevada, Colorado, California, and Washington. It’s a always a good idea to save proof that you voted. In Hawaii, you will need to show proof in order to get paid for the time off.

Check the website Can My Boss Do That? for detailed information about the laws in your state.

Many states that allow time off to vote stipulate that employees are only entitled to time off if the polls aren’t open long enough before or after the employees’ shift for the employee to vote on their own time. Many state laws stipulate that the employee is entitled to time off if the polls aren’t open for at least 2 hours before or after their shift.

In many states, employees have to ask for time off in advance. So, if it’s Nov. 1 and you’re reading this in Arizona, Colorado, Missouri, or Nevada, for example, you might still have time to put in your request. If you live in New York, it’s already too late to ask for your paid time off — requests have to be submitted between two and 10 days before the election.

Minnesota’s new Time Off to Vote” law gives workers the right to paid time for the amount of time it takes to go to the polling place, cast a ballot and return to work. This can happen at any time during the work day, as approved by the employer. The old law only allowed for time off during the morning of election day.

Nineteen states have no laws guaranteeing time off to vote. By contrast, Election Day is a holiday in Puerto Rico. Some countries go much farther than the U.S. when it comes to making sure that citizens have time off to vote. Election Day is a national holiday in Israel, for example.

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Lindsay Beyerstein is an award-winning investigative journalist and In These Times staff writer who writes the blog Duly Noted. Her stories have appeared in Newsweek, Salon, Slate, The Nation, Ms. Magazine, and other publications. Her photographs have been published in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times’ City Room. She also blogs at The Hillman Blog (http://​www​.hill​man​foun​da​tion​.org/​h​i​l​l​m​a​nblog), a publication of the Sidney Hillman Foundation, a non-profit that honors journalism in the public interest.
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