Originally published on LinkedIn by Arne Sorenson, Marriott president and CEO.
This year marks a major milestone in the history of our country – the centennial anniversary of the passing of the 19th Amendment, granting women the right to vote. Women’s suffrage was a hard-fought battle that lasted decades on both the state and national levels. Fifty years earlier, in 1870, the 15th amendment gave African American men the right to vote under the law. In both situations, exercising the rights granted under the 15th and 19th Amendments became another challenge, as barriers such as literacy tests, poll taxes, and intimidation were used to prevent women and Black Americans from voting.
We’ve come quite far as a nation since then. And yet after all these years, we are still working towards true equality as many Americans face health and education disparities in their communities, poverty, discrimination and voter suppression. These are battles we must continue to fight.
One powerful tool we have is simple. Vote. Today is National Voter Registration day – a day designed to encourage U.S. voters who are not currently registered, to get registered to be ready for November 3. There are far too many citizens who fail to vote. I find it astounding that only about 60 percent of eligible voters cast a ballot in the presidential election years 2012 and 2016, according to the U.S. Census. In the off year, 2014, only about 40 percent voted.
When we think about the great sacrifices made by so many to earn the right to vote – people died for that right – it’s clear that more of us should be voting and doing it with passion. Every election year, at Marriott, we work to encourage our associates across the country to vote, starting early with resources on registering while encouraging flexibility for our associates so they have time to vote in both the primaries and in November’s general election. We’re ensuring this year that we’re also communicating alternatives to in-person voting, so our associates know about mail-in or early voting options available in their communities. While volunteering at the polls on election day will likely look different across the U.S. this year given the pandemic, we have long offered our corporate associates paid leave to volunteer, and we’re doing so again on November 3.
These efforts are certainly small in the grand scheme of our elections. But there’s no question there is a great deal to be done to achieve the breadth of opportunity and peace that comes with equality for all Americans, whatever their race, gender, income level, abilities, sexual orientation and the like. We’ll have a better shot at achieving it all, if we all vote.
I’m truly hopeful that this year, the turnout numbers will be staggering—not because of how many people didn’t vote, but instead because of how many Americans did.
Perhaps 19th century civil rights advocate Susan B. Anthony gave us the best roadmap with her timeless words of wisdom: “Organize, agitate, educate, must be our war cry.”