An obscure Oklahoma law requires employers to give employees up to two hours off to cast ballots.
“It's just one more option to encourage voting rather than discourage voting,” said Jim Curry, president of the Oklahoma AFL-CIO, a national labor union. “We do inform our members about it because if you're working a 10-hour shift, it makes it very difficult to go vote.”
Under the state law, an employee is eligible for taking two hours of paid-leave on Election Day to vote, as long as the worker's shift begins within three hours of polls opening or closing. Employees who start work before 10 a.m. and go home after 4 p.m. are eligible for the paid leave.
The time must be requested 24 hours before the election, according to the law, and employers who refuse can be charged with a misdemeanor and fined $50 to $100.
Lee Slater, an Oklahoma City attorney who served as the election board secretary for more than a decade, said he can't recall an employer ever being fined for noncompliance. He said the law has been on the books a longtime, but was re-enacted in 1974.
“It was put in place in a time when sometimes working hours extended through the whole time polls were open, so a worker had no time to go to the polls and vote,” Slater said.
“I don't know if it's still as necessary as it might have been at one time,” Slater said.
But nurses, police officers and others who work 10-hour shifts would still benefit from the law, he said.
The law allows for an employer to change the shift hours of an employee on Election Day to allow them to vote, instead of granting the paid time off.
According to a 2009 analysis done by the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, 29 states require private employers to grant voters time off to cast ballots on Election Day.