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Biden administration to give federal employees time off to vote, work the polls

Vice President Harris highlights efforts to expand voting access

Vice President Kamala Harris has announced new steps on voting access.
Vice President Kamala Harris has announced new steps on voting access. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The Biden administration is directing federal agencies to let federal workers take leave to vote — and to serve as poll workers.

Vice President Kamala Harris highlighted that new guidance from the Office of Personnel Management during a virtual event Thursday afternoon, delivering remarks from the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.

“We believe the federal government should serve as a model employer — and, by the way, we’re the largest employer in the country, so we can do this and we should do this — and then therefore serve as a model employer when it comes to helping employees participate in their democracy,” Harris said. “And we’re going to therefore call on all employers to do the same.”

The new policy for federal workers was one of several deliverables tied to the anniversary of President Joe Biden’s March 7, 2021, executive order on efforts to expand voting access. Thursday’s event also focused on two new reports stating what can be done to help support voting access for people with disabilities, as well as in tribal communities.

“I’m proud to announce that the National Institute of Standards and Technology is releasing a report that lays out a comprehensive assessment of the barriers that disabled Americans face when they’re voting and offers specific recommendations for what we must do with a sense of urgency to break down those barriers — for example, including more disabled people in the design of election procedures because, of course, we should be having the leaders lead and — and not replacing what we think is, is important with what leaders can tell us is important,” Harris said.

The report on Native American voting rights includes recommendations for more polling places, with services offered in more languages, as well as for the Postal Service to prioritize efforts to support voting by mail in those communities.

“The U.S. Postal Service should evaluate whether it can add routes, offices, and staff hours or personnel in areas serving Native communities, and should prioritize assigning postal addresses to homes on Tribal lands,” a White House fact sheet said.

Under the specifics of a memo from OPM Director Kiran Ahuja to the heads of federal departments and agencies, federal workers should be authorized up to four hours of administrative leave to cast votes in a wide variety of elections, for federal offices as well as tribal, state and local races that may occur on different days. The directive also applies to primaries and caucuses, as well as to early voting windows.

“Scheduling of administrative leave for the above-described purposes is subject to a determination by the agency that the employee can be relieved of duty during the specific period of time requested by the employee without significantly impairing mission essential operations,” the memorandum said.

However, agencies should be “making necessary operational adjustments” to maximize opportunities for federal employees to vote.

The memo also calls for up to four hours of leave per year for work as nonpartisan poll workers or observers, which can include time off for training. Beyond that, Ahuja’s memo emphasizes that other forms of paid time off may be used.

“If those duties require the employee to be absent for a longer period of time, the employee must use annual leave (accrued or advanced), earned compensatory time off, or credit hours earned under a flexible work schedule,” the memo stated. “An employee may also request leave without pay according to agency internal policies and any applicable collective bargaining agreement.”

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