RALEIGH — Todd Atlas, the owner of the Durham music and audio shop SoundPure, usually votes on Election Day. But this year, like hundreds of thousands of others, he will be voting with an absentee ballot because of the coronavirus pandemic.
But he wasn't super clear on how to actually do that.
"If I didn't have my wife" help with it, he admitted in a phone interview, "I don't know if I would've known what to do."
That made him wonder how many others might be in that same position. "I really wonder if folks on the margin might stay away and not vote because of the complexity," he said.
He's hoping to be part of the solution.
Atlas is the president of the Triangle chapter of nonprofit business group Entrepreneurs' Organization, a networking and support group for business leaders. Members of the group employ thousands of workers across North Carolina, one of the key battleground states in the upcoming election.
The North Carolina chapters of EO are now asking members to sign the All Hands Vote pledge to encourage 100% of their employees to vote in November and to share information about how to do it.
Matt Zemon, who runs the business services firm Bernard, said many of his employees seem especially anxious about the actual mechanics of voting this year. Doom-and-gloom reports from the media and conflicting messages from political leaders are contributing to it, he said.
Perhaps companies could ease some of those anxieties, he said, by distributing easy-to-understand information about voting.
Those who sign the pledge promise to email all of their employees — during the business day — instructions on how to register and vote. They also promise to remind their workers, many of whom might be new to North Carolina, about voting and give them the space and time to accomplish it.
"What we are trying to say is your (mail-in vote) will be counted, and if you are worried about safety here's how to vote by absentee," Zemon said.
In total, 150 CEOs are members of North Carolina chapters of EO, and they employ about 5,000 people. Companies outside of EO can also join the pledge, Zemon said.
North Carolina is on track for a record number of mail-in ballots this year because of the coronavirus. But it hasn't been without controversy, as even President Donald Trump has cast doubt on the process.
Trump tweeted earlier this month: "NORTH CAROLINA: To make sure your Ballot COUNTS, sign & send it in EARLY. When Polls open, go to your Polling Place to see if it was COUNTED. IF NOT, VOTE! Your signed Ballot will not count because your vote has been posted. Don't let them illegally take your vote away from you!"
It is illegal to vote twice.
EO, however, doesn't want to talk about the president. It says it represents a wide variety of businesses and industries and doesn't care how employees vote — just that they do it.
"There's a lot to be said that voter turnout determines elections," Atlas said, especially in a place like North Carolina, where some elections have been determined by just a few thousand votes. Gov. Roy Cooper, for example, beat incumbent Pat McCrory in 2016 by about 10,000 votes.
"That is not to say our employees will vote the way I want them to," Atlas said. "But democracy needs attention and the workplace has not been a place that has been ... political in the past."
Maybe that shouldn't be the case, Atlas said.
Hundreds of companies, like Best Buy, Nike and Twitter, have promised to give employees time off to vote, CNN reported. Raleigh-based Bandwidth decided in 2018 to give workers two paid hours to vote, canceled meetings on Election Day and bought lunch for employees who voted.
"Why shouldn't the workplace be a place that is supportive of democracy?" Atlas said. "We recognize (Election Day) as something as special, but it is not like businesses are closed to recognize it.
"We should have a duty to allow some space for voting."
Atlas said SoundPure will not be closed on Election Day, but he will give employees "time off as needed" to vote.
This story was produced with financial support from a coalition of partners led by Innovate Raleigh as part of an independent journalism fellowship program. The N&O maintains full editorial control of the work.
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