Nine Washington, D.C. Councilmembers introduced a bill that would compel businesses to give workers two hours of paid leave on Election Day. The bill, called the Paid Leave to Vote Amendment Act of 2018, was introduced Nov. 20. If passed, the bill would grant workers up to two hours of paid leave to vote in all District-wide elections. It would also make it illegal for employers to interfere with or deny employees’ attempts to vote. Currently, the District has no law requiring employers provide workers time off to vote. If the council passes the legislation, D.C. would join 20 states that guarantee employees paid time to vote during the work day, according to Vote411.org. Ten other states allow employees unpaid time off to vote. Though District elections generally followed accessibility procedures this November, Councilmember Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3), one of the bill’s sponsors, criticized the elections for being inaccessible to employees who cannot wait in long lines or commute to the polls because of work requirements in a Nov. 20 statement. “The right to vote is the bedrock of our democracy, yet the District does not have any protections in place for residents who need to take leave in order to vote,” Cheh wrote. “There is more we can do to ensure that all eligible voters are able to engage in this important civic duty, and guaranteeing leave is one way we can remove some of the practical barriers to higher voter participation.” Select employers in the District already granted their workers paid leave on Election Day this year. Restaurants Cava and &pizza were two of several businesses that allowed employees paid leave, and Patagonia was closed on Election Day. Local restaurant chain &pizza gave employees the time off during the work day to encourage them to participate in causes they care about, according to a spokesperson. “Voting is an essential right and our employee base is largely made up of young people whose voices desperately need to be heard right now,” the spokesperson wrote in an email to The Hoya. Cava recognizes that there are many barriers workers face that result in them not being able to vote, co-founder Ted Xenohristos told Washingtonian on Oct. 22. “It’s not always easy for everyone with childcare and finding transportation and working multiple jobs,” Xenohristos said. “With the voter turnout being so low in the states, we’re trying to get people to be part of their communities and get them involved.” This resolution follows a series of initiatives the council has considered to ease voter accessibility. D.C. began automatically registering residents who complete applications for drivers licenses in June, and recently tabled legislation would lower the District’s voting age to 16. Although the bill has been referred to the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety, there have been no further updates yet, according to the D.C. Council’s website. However, according to the &pizza spokesperson, the experiment was a success. “We heard amazing feedback from both our employees and customers who supported us fully in this decision, and will continue to provide our Tribe with the time and resources to take a stance on the causes that matter most to them,” the spokesperson wrote.
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