OPM grants US federal officials paid leave to vote in elections

By on 27/03/2022 | Updated on 27/03/2022
Three US voters submit ballot at polling booths
Administrative leave for federal employees to vote was previously only granted on election day.

The US Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has given federal employees the right to take leave to vote in federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial elections.

Agency workers may take up to four hours of administrative leave to vote. According to a release published by OPM, this time can be combined with other leave for employees wishing to work as non-partisan poll workers and election observers.

Until now, OPM has only granted administrative leave to federal workers to vote on election day, and poll work has had to be arranged through “excused absences”.

The move follows an executive order signed by president Joe Biden in March 2021 on promoting access to voting. OPM said Biden had directed it to create more flexible conditions for federal employees to vote, as well as to boost early voting.

“New guidance released today recognises that voting has evolved beyond a single election day and reduces barriers to voting by directing agencies to provide time off for employees to vote at any time the polls are open, either on election day or during an early voting period,” it said.

“The functioning of our democracy and protecting the right to vote are core American ideals,” said Kiran Ahuja, director of OPM.

“Today’s guidance advances fundamental goals of the Biden-Harris Administration: to promote democracy, reduce barriers to voting for federal employees, and further position the federal government as a model employer for other employers to follow.”

Read more: Top teleworking tips: Performance management advice for hybrid-working US federal government

Biden’s goal of turning the federal government into a model employer that prioritises employee engagement has spurred OPM to issue several guidance memos to agency heads in recent months. In one of these, OPM shared performance management advice for hybrid-working, in which it emphasised giving staff intentional breaks from work.

This came as part of what Robert Shriver, associate director of employee services at OPM, described as the agency’s “renewed focus on employee engagement, learning, development, health, and wellbeing”.

Making America vote again

In its statement, OPM acknowledged that the federal government’s aspiration to become a model employer made granting employees voting leave a valuable opportunity. It also acknowledged that many employees in the private sector already enjoyed such benefits.

For democracies to shore up civic participation, OPM said, voting would need to be made easier for Americans who traditionally encounter obstacles to taking the necessary time off.

In a report by Government Executive (GovExec), Everett Kelley, national president of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) said the move would “not only directly help more Americans play a part in our democracy…[but will] ensure no working American ever has to choose between a paycheck and their right to vote”. 

“One of the most effective ways to strengthen our democracy is by ensuring more Americans have the opportunity to participate and make their voice heard,” he added.

To counter the range of barriers to voting experienced by Americans, the White House also recently published a report by the Interagency Steering Group on Native American Voting Rights, created through the March 2021 order.

The report outlines the barriers native communities in America face to voting, such as “language barriers, a lack of accessibility for voters with disabilities, cultural disrespect and outright hostility, geographically remote residences, and persistent poverty”.

It added that such difficulties “have only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic”. The report included recommendations for congress to pass the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.

Read more: Biden’s management agenda prioritises federal employee engagement

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About Jack Aldane

Jack is a British journalist, cartoonist and podcaster. He graduated from Heythrop College London in 2009 with a BA in philosophy, before living and working in China for three years as a freelance reporter. After training in financial journalism at City University from 2013 to 2014, Jack worked at Bloomberg and Thomson Reuters before moving into editing magazines on global trade and development finance. Shortly after editing opinion writing for UnHerd, he joined the independent think tank ResPublica, where he led a media campaign to change the health and safety requirements around asbestos in UK public buildings. As host and producer of The Booking Club podcast – a conversation series featuring prominent authors and commentators at their favourite restaurants – Jack continues to engage today’s most distinguished thinkers on the biggest problems pertaining to ideology and power in the 21st century. He joined Global Government Forum as its Senior Staff Writer and Community Co-ordinator in 2021.

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