New bill would require employers to grant paid leave in order to vote

Representative Matt Cartwright (D – PA) introduced a bill last week that would require employers to give workers paid leave in order to vote in federal elections. Cartwright’s bill has 30 cosponsors, all of whom are Democrats, according to The Hill.

The bill would require employers to grant at least two hours of paid time off in order for employees to cast their ballots without missing scheduled work hours. This would standardize what is currently a patchwork of varying state laws, some of which afford workers time off to vote and some of which do not. According to The Hill:

State laws vary on requiring employers to give workers paid time off to vote. Some states mandate that workers are allowed time to vote but don’t guarantee that their pay won’t be docked for it; others allot a specific amount of time to vote. A handful of states don’t have laws that ensure workers time to vote at all.

However, most states prohibit employers from firing or disciplining workers who take time off to vote.

Election Day, via Wikimedia Commons

Election Day, via Wikimedia Commons

Of course, this bill would be completely unnecessary if Election Day were declared a national holiday, or if we adopted nationwide early voting. Failing that, however, a federal guarantee that employers are not allowed to dock pay or fire employees who take time off in order to exercise their right to vote would be a small step in the right direction.

Specifics aside, however, this bill represents the latest plank on what has become a broader Democratic platform on voting rights in recent weeks. In the wake of numerous state-level reforms and an emphatic endorsement from Hillary Clinton, Democrats in Congress have introduced multiple expansions of the franchise, from automatic voter registration to nationwide early voting to a restored Voting Rights Act. Even if none of these reforms pass in the current Republican-controlled Congress, they serve as a signal that voting rights are a higher priority for Democrats now than they were in 2010, when Republicans launched a nationwide keep-in-the-vote program. The fact that there is more talk of voting rights expansions more generally means that it’s an issue on which Democrats think they can win.

That by itself is an encouraging step.

Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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