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The Obligations of Democracy

Chairman's Column - September 2012

Mark W. Kramer, Laird Plastics
2012 NAW Chairman of the Board

Every four years the United States reaffirms one of its core founding principles as “the people” elect their President coincidentally with the entire House of Representatives and one third of the Senate. Our history is rich with significant Presidential contests held during times of great national challenge. The contest shaping up for this November may well be placed by future historians at the top of that list.

The challenges and issues we face have been well chronicled. A tepid recovery from a historical recession, policy choices that led to massive government stimulus spending, and private sector intervention have drawn aggressive critique from all sides of the political spectrum. The resulting annual budget deficits and cumulative federal debt threaten to claim disproportionate amounts of future productivity and earnings. From health care to finance to student loans to energy, we have seen a clear preference in recent years for implementing government-based solutions to the most pressing challenges of our times.

Now, our families, our companies, our industry, and our country face the opportunity, and indeed the obligation, to choose how we wish the government and its policies to interact with our lives. It is imperative that each and every person entitled to vote make his or her voice heard. It is imperative that we, as the corporate leaders within the wholesale distribution industry, provide the information and opportunity needed by our families and employees to exercise their right to vote. This may seem a very simple and obvious point.

The truth is the U.S. Census Bureau has reported that millions of registered voters who are employed in the private sector fail to vote in national elections. Sadly, as many as 30% of these otherwise eligible voters indicate that they failed to vote because they either lacked information on how to obtain an absentee ballot or were simply “too busy” to vote. Given the narrow margins of victory that decide many elections, it is not hard to contemplate that these ballots—had they been cast—might have swayed the results in some of the elections that were missed. The refrain may often be heard that “my vote doesn’t matter anyway.” But, this is absolutely untrue where the margin of victory is determined by dozens of votes out of thousands cast. We must not allow those with whom we have influence to believe that their vote “doesn’t matter.” What are the ways that we can make a positive contribution to the exercise of democracy?

Everyone must be registered to vote. The exact methods, places, and timing (deadlines) for this will vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but are easy to find out. Many jurisdictions have now expanded their voting protocols to include “early voting,” as in Florida where I live. In these jurisdictions, there is an extended period prior to the actual Election Day where voters can cast a ballot on timing far more of their own choosing and convenience, in many cases, including weekend days. It is also very easy to discover which states permit this type of voting. All jurisdictions have provisions for voting by absentee ballot if the voter will not be physically present or able to vote on Election Day. The exact requirements for this method will once again vary from state to state, but may easily be discovered and acted upon. For those who are registered and will need to vote on November 6th, 2012, the actual time must be made available for the voting process. Information on registering to vote, early voting, and voting by absentee ballot may be easily and conveniently determined by entering the appropriate zip code at the following NAW-sponsored address: http://www.naw.org/govrelations/vote.php.  

We as wholesale distribution industry executives retain an important ability to provide the encouragement to vote, the required time, and, where necessary, possibly the transportation or other means to vote.

As executives, we also have a chance to go beyond the mere mechanics and details of the voting process. While we want to be careful not to cross the line and become particular candidate advocates, it is perfectly appropriate for any company to outline the issues and policies it believes will impact its business and inform its employees what those impacts are likely to be. Research done in conjunction with the 2010 election cycle found that employer websites were identified as the third most frequently cited source of Internet information regarding the election, ranking behind only national media and newspaper sites. This Minerva Marketing BIPAC study found that heightened issue awareness was on the increase even in that non-Presidential election year as a direct result of employer-provided information. The study found that employer-provided information continues to be one of the most relied-upon and credible resources for employees in making their voting decisions. Further, the survey demonstrated that financial recovery was a key issue for employees in the 2010 cycle—in stark contrast to 2008 when health care was a dominant concern. There would be little reason to think that these priorities have changed going into 2012.

Every business has a lot at stake in the outcome of the November 6th election. I urge you to become familiar with the particulars for voting in your jurisdiction and pass this information on at once to all of your employees. Further, I urge all executives to reflect on the issues and policies that are most important to the future success of your business and your employees and, as Stephen M. R. Covey would say, “find your voice” in properly and factually letting your employees know about them. November 7th would be a terrible day to wish you had done more when there was time.