As some of you may know, I’m running for a seat on the Zoning Board of Appeals in my small hometown of Avon, Connecticut. It has been a great experience. But now that it’s crunch time — the election is tomorrow — the most important part is ensuring that people vote. (They will also be using new voting machines; the old lever system — pictured here — has been replaced by an optical scanner.)
I’ve been curious as to what an employer’s obligations are with respect to the election. Here are a few points you need to know.
First, employers cannot make threats to employees about their employment tied to the way employees vote. Rather than make this a civil penalty, the employer can be subject to imprisonment for such actions. Specifically, Conn. Gen. Stat. Sec. 9-365 states:
Any person who, at or within sixty days prior to any election, municipal meeting, school district election or school district meeting, attempts to influence the vote of any operative in his employ by threats of withholding employment from him or by promises of employment or who dismisses any operative from his employment on account of any vote he has given at any such election or meeting shall be fined not less than one hundred dollars nor more than five hundred dollars or be imprisoned not less than six months nor more than twelve months or be both fined and imprisoned.
Despite this law being on the books for nearly 60 years, there is virtually no commentary or cases on it. That does not give employers license to ignore it, however. Employers should avoid even the appearance of suggesting how to vote to employees although they can encourage employees to exercise their right to vote. (Employers cannot provide misleading information about the vote either.)
Second, in Connecticut, the polls must be open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. There is no obligation for employers to provide employees time off to vote. However, a reminder to employees via e-mail today about the polls being open and that they should vote either before or after their particular shift or work hours is certainly appropriate. Again, this is not influencing an employee’s vote. Even employees travel ling tomorrow can still fill out an absentee ballot today at their local town hall.
Third, employers can also remind employees of their "Bill of Rights" for voting. Connecticut has established those rights and summarized them in a document here. Among the more noteworthy rules that employees should know is their right to vote when they are "in line" at the time the polls close. Thus, people should not shy away from voting late in the day even if there is a line.
Interestingly, the election laws in the state contain various other trivial details that must be complied with including having a United States flag on the wall (Connecticut’s flag is optional), and a telephone.
Elections for local office are, for the most part, not very exciting to the media. But because the decisions that are made locally may have the most impact on town residents (including property tax decisions and schools), they are perhaps more important than national elections. Encouraging employees to vote is a great way for employers to both abide by the law and assist a valuable civic duty in getting performed.