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OPM: Feds should ‘rarely’ need time off to vote

Memo outlines rules for excused absences on Election Day.

Federal employees who want to take off a few hours from work to vote in November will be permitted to do so only in a limited number of circumstances.

A memo from Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry to chief human capital officers advises agencies on the government’s long-standing policies governing excused absences for voting. Berry told agencies that such absences “should rarely be needed” since most polling places now are open for extended periods of time, with some offering early voting options.

Excused absences for voting can be granted in cases where an employee must vote early, has an extended commuting time, or attends a polling place that is not open at least three hours either before or after regular working hours. The policy applies to federal, state, county and municipal elections.

An agency may grant “a limited amount of excused absence” to permit an employee to report to work three hours after the polls open or leave from work three hours before they close if that employee’s polling place is not open in a three-hour window either before or after their regular work hours. The employee must choose whether to leave early or arrive late based on whichever requires the lesser amount of time away from work.

This means if an employee regularly works from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and the polling place is open from 7 a.m. to 7p.m., the employee could be granted half an hour of excused absence from 4 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. if he or she requests. But if that polling place were open until 8 p.m., then the employee would not be eligible for excused absence, since that would allow at least three hours after the end of the workday to vote.

During the 2008 elections, OPM acting Director Michael Hager denied a request from members of Congress to give federal employees up to five hours of excused absence for voting.

If an employee’s voting place “is beyond normal commuting distance” and that employee cannot vote by absentee ballot, he or she would be eligible for up to one day to make the trip to cast a ballot. If more than a day is needed, he or she can request leave without pay.

An employee also can be granted an excused absence for early voting if he or she is unable to vote on Election Day due to work-related activities, such as travel, and cannot vote by absentee ballot. If that employee chooses early voting, but the hours of the polling place are shorter than those on Election Day, however, the employee would not be eligible for an excused absence because the employee opted to vote early.

(Image via Lisa S./