With U.S. elections fast approaching (not just the headliner presidential one but critical races at the state and local levels as well), companies are acting to ensure that people are able to participate in the democratic process. With that in mind, Page member Kelly McGinnis of Levi Strauss led a Page Conversation focused on how companies can promote and enable that engagement. She was joined by Anna Walker, who heads public affairs for Levi’s, Sari Kaufman, co-founder of the MyVote Project, and Steven Levine, executive director of the Civic Alliance.

Levi’s is one of the companies helping lead Time To Vote, a campaign that asks companies to commit to allowing time for employees to vote. Civic Alliance is similarly focused on making voting accessible and supporting voter education and participation, and the My Vote Project is setting out to provide objective information about candidates and their policies. 

All three are non-partisan, operating in an environment that can cast voter engagement a partisan issue. And all agreed that companies should emphasize that voting is a civic responsibility that has nothing to do with voting preferences. “The role of business is to use their voice for messages like the importance of voting early, of voting up and down the ballot,” Walker said.  

Kaufman’s involvement on this issue originated from the gun control advocacy she helped lead following the shooting at her high school in Parkland, Florida in 2018, when she was a sophomore. She was one of the organizers of the March For Our Lives demonstration shortly after, and her role focused on voter registration. She’s since leveraged that experience into the MyVote project. We invited her to share her perspective: 

As I was forced to adapt to yet another “new normal” following the outbreak of COVID-19, I decided that the best way to move forward was evaluating how we can create a better and more effective “status quo.”  Collaborating with young students across the country, we found that VOTING would be the best catalyst to bring about a “better new normal.”

In March of this year, when the entire country faced varying levels of quarantine due to COVID-19, MyVote Project, an idea I had been discussing for nearly two years with my co-founders, experienced a surreal turn of events. The MyVote Project got off the ground during the pandemic with an increase in volunteers who suddenly had the time to devote to the cause. Hundreds of students from across the country signed up to virtually volunteer, practically overnight. They spent five months researching candidates and policy issues guided and mentored by Duke Sanford Public Policy students and professors. Due to the incredible efforts of these volunteers, MyVote Project launched a pilot in Florida for its mid-August primary.

For the first time in two years, I was not only defined by being a survivor of the shooting at my high school, but as an activist who was propelled to address the problem of an uninformed and under-informed electorate. Fast forward to this week, I found myself speaking to people who create and develop the brands that determine cultural cues, and who have taken on voting and ensuring safe, healthy, and accessible elections in these unprecedented times.

When my co-founders, David McAdams of Duke University and Gita Stulberg, a political strategist, and I set out to create MyVote Project, we could never have imagined that we would be expanding the MyVote Project into North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and other select cities in time for the general election this November, much less in the midst of a pandemic. Our mission to give voters the background they need to know, on issues that directly impact their lives, and on the candidates who may represent them at all levels of government, sets out to inform, not influence voters. That mission is being realized. 

As I sat on a Zoom call with such an esteemed group of people, thinkers, and change-makers,  who understand that 50% turnout of registered voters in a midterm election is not okay, I was motivated to keep working. People need to be registered, educated, and afforded Time To Vote in order to ensure larger turnouts now, and in the next midterm, and so on. They have listened and heard their employees and are motivating other companies to make strong commitments to voter engagement. I am proud to virtually sit among them and know together we will help to elevate a strong, informed, and powerful electorate with 2020 vision for the long road ahead.