WASHINGTON, DC – Millions of Americans will go to the polls this November to vote for their elected leaders, including the President and members of Congress.

Today, U.S. Senators Jack Reed (D-RI) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) joined Senator Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI) and several of their colleagues in introducing the Time Off to Vote Act to ensure more Americans aren’t financially penalized for taking time off from work to cast a ballot.

The Time Off to Vote Act would require employers—upon the request of the employee—to provide at least two consecutive hours of paid leave in order to vote in federal elections.  This allotted time can be used to vote at a polling place, return a mail-in ballot, or take time for “other voting-related activities,” such as curing a ballot or driving someone to the polls.

There is currently no federal law mandating voting leave.  State laws have created a patchwork of leave requirements that can vary significantly from state to state.  The Time Off to Vote Act would standardize voting leave during federal elections for all fifty states.

“Voting is essential to our democracy and all eligible voters deserve to be able to exercise their fundamental right to have their voices heard,” said Senator Hirono. “I am proud to introduce the Time Off to Vote Act, legislation that will empower more eligible voters to participate in our democracy. As we continue working to protect voting rights and defend democracy, this bill will help to expand voter participation, especially in underrepresented communities.”

“Voting is a civic responsibility and Congress should ensure every eligible voter can reach the ballot box and cast their vote,” said Senator Reed, who has previously introduced legislation that would expand federal Election Day to include the first full weekend in November.  Reed says expanding Election Day to multiple days would help get more people to the polls. 

“Our democracy is strongest when everyone’s voice is heard,” said Senator Whitehouse.  “The Time Off to Vote Act is commonsense legislation to ensure no American has to choose between missing a paycheck and exercising their right to vote.”

According to a poll by Ipsos, about 10 percent of eligible voters cited being unable to take off from work as the reason they did not vote.  The Time Off to Vote Act would help to address this issue by providing eligible voters with an allotted period of time to vote and ensuring that taking this time off from work will not affect their benefits.

This legislation is cosponsored in the Senate by Senators Laphonza Butler (D-CA), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Alex Padilla (D-CA), Peter Welch (D-VT), Bob Casey (D-PA), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Ron Wyden (D-OR). Companion legislation was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Representative Matt Cartwright (D-PA).

Companion legislation was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Representative Matt Cartwright (D-PA).

The Time Off to Vote Act is endorsed by AFL-CIO; American Civil Liberties Union; American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME); American Federation of Teachers; Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC; Asian and Pacific Islander American Vote (APIAVote); Association of Assistive Technology Act Programs; Autism Society of America; Blinded Veterans Association; Brennan Center for Justice; Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation; Common Cause; Communication Workers of America (CWA); Declaration for American Democracy Coalition; Demos; Disability Victory; Diverse Elders Coalition; Epilepsy Foundation; FairVote Action; International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (SMART); Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law; League of Conservation Voters; Let America Vote/End Citizens United Action Fund; NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund; NALEO Educational Fund; National Disability Institute; National Hispanic Council on Aging; New Disabled South; NextGen America; Patent Office Professional Association (POPA); Progressive Turnout Project; RespectABILITY; Southern Poverty Law Center Action Fund; The Arc of the United States; Transport Workers Union of America (TWU); United Auto Workers Union (UAW); United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW); and Utility Workers Union of America (UWUA).

Currently, about half of U.S. states have state laws to mandate varying degrees of workers paid or unpaid time off to vote.  Rhode Island is among states that don’t have specific time off for voting laws.  Regardless of state laws, individual businesses may also opt to provide workers paid time off to vote.

The full text of the legislation is available here.