How feds can balance work and election day

The federal government has a longstanding policy of encouraging agency leaders to offer workplace flexibilities for feds to participate in election day, both as voters and as volunteer poll workers.

According to a memo released by the Office of Personnel Management Sept. 29, agencies are being advised to offer employees excused absences if their work hours would put them within three hours of the polls opening or closing in their precinct.

“For example, if an employee normally works from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and the employee’s polling place is open from 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., the employee should not be granted excused absence for voting, since the employee would still have at least 3 hours after the end of his or her workday to vote,” acting OPM Director Michael Rigas wrote in the memo.

“However, if an employee normally works from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and the employee’s polling place is open from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., the employee may be granted a half hour of excused absence from 4:00 p.m. to 4:30 p.m., if requested.”

In this May 28, 2020, file photo, a voter casts her mail-in ballot at in a drop box in West Chester, Pa., prior to the primary election. (Matt Rourke/AP)
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That three-hour window may also be extended if an employee must commute an unusually long distance from their workplace to their polling location and cannot vote by absentee ballot.

For early voting, an excused absence may only be granted if that employee will be unable to cast an absentee ballot or vote on the day of the election, due to essential work requirements, or if the hours for early voting are the same as or longer than the hours on Election Day.

Agencies have also been advised to support feds that want to spend election day getting more involved in the democratic process.

“Any employee who requests time off to train and serve as a non-partisan election official to assist in the proper and orderly voting and procedures at polling stations shall be granted excused absence to the maximum extent possible while accounting for the responsibilities and duties to carry out the agency mission,” Rigas wrote.

“Federal employees have been encouraged to make maximum use of the existing wide range of leave and work scheduling flexibilities available to them to perform community service, which may include service as poll workers.”

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