President Biden signed an Executive Order on Sunday designed to promote voting access which includes some provisions specifically tailored to federal employees.
Biden said in the Order that the federal government should serve “as a model employer by encouraging and facilitating Federal employees’ civic participation.” While it doesn’t offer many specifics, the Order directs the Office of Personnel Management to look at ways to give federal employees time off to vote. The Order instructs the director of OPM to do the following within 200 days of the Order:
(a) coordinate with the heads of executive agencies, as defined in 5 U.S.C. 105, to provide recommendations to the President, through the Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy, on strategies to expand the Federal Government’s policy of granting employees time off to vote in Federal, State, local, Tribal, and territorial elections. Such recommendations should include efforts to ensure Federal employees have opportunities to participate in early voting.
(b) Coordinate with the heads of executive agencies, as defined in 5 U.S.C. 105, to provide recommendations to the President, through the Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy, on strategies to better support Federal employees who wish to volunteer to serve as non-partisan poll workers or non‑partisan observers, particularly during early or extended voting periods.
During the last election, OPM offered guidance to federal employees with respect to whether or not they could have time off to vote. According to the guidance issued at the time, agencies could give federal employees excused absences to take time to vote, but only in limited circumstances.
“Agencies have discretionary authority to grant excused absence to the extent that such time off does not interfere with agency operations, including the ability to adjust policies to circumstances as they unfold. Typically, polling places throughout the United States are open for extended periods of time, and an increasing number of jurisdictions are offering early voting options. Therefore, excused absence should rarely be needed,” stated the guidance for the 2020 elections from OPM.
Past efforts have even been made to make election day a national holiday. In 2014, for example, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) wanted to establish a new federal holiday called “Democracy Day” which would make election day a holiday in an effort to encourage more people to vote.
Should federal employees be given time off to vote? Feel free to share your opinion in the comments below.