By: LISA R. WILSON

November 4, 2008 is Election Day! Considering that many US citizens work very long hours, this means that most of us will have to take time off during our workday in order to cast our ballot before the polls close. In many states, employers must allow employees time off to exercise their right to vote and may risk fines or even jail sentences for interfering with this time. In other states, however, the law offers no special protection or incentive for someone who takes time out of the workday to vote.

The following is a break down of states that do not have time-off-to-vote laws, those states that do and the penalties that can incur if they fail to comply.

States without time off to vote laws:

Alabama, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Vermont, Virginia

States with time off to vote laws and applicable guidelines:

Alaska:
Employees affected: Any voter
Time allowed: Enough time to vote, unless 2 hours available before or after work
Must employee be paid? Yes

Arizona:
Employees affected: Any voter
Time allowed: Up to 3 hours unless polls open 3 hours before or after work
Must employee be paid? Yes
Must employee make application? Yes
May employer specify hours? Yes
Penalty for violation: Fine of $2,500, jail up to 6 months; for enterprises, fine up to $20,000

Arkansas:
Employees affected: Any voter
Time allowed: Work hours must be scheduled to allow employees opportunity to vote
Penalty of violation: Fine of $25 to $250

California:
Employees affected: Any voter
Time allowed: Enough time at start or end of work to vote in statewide election, when added to free time during voting hours
Must employee be paid? Limited to 2 hours
Must employee make application? Yes, 2 work days before election
May employer specify hours? At beginning or end of shift

Colorado:
Employees affected: Any voter
Time allowed: 2 hours unless polls open 3 non-working hours
Must employee be paid? Yes, but limited to 2 hours for hourly workers
Must employee make application? Yes
May employer specify hours? Yes, at beginning or end of shift
Penalty of violation: Fine of up to $1,000 and/or jail up to 1 year; corporations also face forfeit of charter and right to do business in state

Georgia:
Employees affected: Any voter
Time allowed: Up to 2 hours where necessary, unless 2 hours available before or after work
Must employee make application? Yes
May employer specify hours? Yes

Hawaii:
Employees affected: Any voter
Time allowed: 2 hours, excluding lunch or rest periods, unless polls open 2 non-working hours
Must employee be paid? Yes, if vote is cast
Penalty of violation: Fine of $50 to $300

Illinois:
Employees affected: Any voter
Time allowed: 2 hours between opening and closing of polls
Must employee be paid? No
Must employee make application? Yes
May employer specify hours? Yes

Iowa:
Employees affected: Any voter
Time allowed: Enough time to give 3 voting hours when polls are open, unless employee has 3 consecutive hours non-work time when polls are open
Must employee be paid? Yes
Must employee make application? In writing
May employee specify hours? Yes
Penalty of violation: Fine of $50 to $500 and/or jail up to 30 days

Kansas:
Employees affected: Any voter
Time allowed: Up to 2 hours, between open and close of polls1
Must employee be paid? Yes
May employee specify hours? Yes
Penalty for violation: Fine up to $2,500 and/or jail up to 1 year

Kentucky:
Employees affected: Any voter
Time allowed: Reasonable time, but not less than 4 hours between opening and closing of polls3
Must employee be paid? No
Must employee make application? Yes
May employer specify hours? Yes

Maryland:
Employees affected: Any voter
Time allowed: Up to 2 hours unless employee has 2 continuous hours off duty between open and close of polls
Must employee be paid? Yes, with proof of vote cast

Massachusetts:
Employees affected: Any voter employed in mechanical, manufacturing or mercantile businesses
Time allowed: No work during first 2 hours polls are open
Must employee make application? Yes
Penalty of violation: Fine up to $500

Minnesota:
Employees affected: Any voter
Time allowed: Morning of Election Day
Must employee be paid? Yes
Penalty of violation: Fine up to $1,000 and/or jail up to 90 days

Missouri:
Employees affected: Any voter
Time allowed: 3 hours unless polls open 3 successive non-working hours
Must employee be paid? Yes if vote is cast
Must employee make application? Yes
May employer specify hours? Yes
Penalty of violation: Fine up to $2,500 and/or 1 year in jail

Nebraska:
Employees affected: Any voter
Time allowed: Up to 2 hours unless polls open 2 hours before or after work
Must employee be paid? Yes
Must employee make application? Yes
May employer specify hours? Yes

Nevada:
Employees affected: Any voter
Time allowed: “Sufficient time” unless sufficient time exists during non-working hours; 1 to 3 hours depending on polls' distances
Must employee be paid? Yes
Must employee make application? Yes
May employer specify hours? Yes
Penalty of violation: Fine up to $1,000 and/or jail up to 6 months

New Mexico:
Employees affected: Any voter
Time allowed: 2 hours unless work begins 2 hours after polls open or ends 3 hours before polls close
Must employee be paid? Limited to 4 hours
May employer specify hours? Yes
Penalty of violation: Fine of $50 to $100

New York:
Employees affected: Any voter
Time allowed: “Sufficient time” unless sufficient time exists during non-working hours; 4 consecutive non-working hours while polls open is "sufficient"
Must employee be paid? Limited to 2 hours
Must employee make application? Yes, 2-10 work days prior to Election Day
May employer specify hours? Yes, at beginning or end of shift
Penalty of violation: Fine of $100 to $500 and/or jail up to 1 year (first offense). Corporations also face forfeiture of charter

North Dakota:
Employees affected: Any voter
Time allowed: Employers are encouraged to provide time off to vote when employee's regular work schedule conflicts with times polls are open

Ohio:
Employees affected: Any voter
Time allowed: Reasonable time (amount not specified)
Must employee be paid? Limited to 4 hours
Penalty of violation: Discharge or threat of discharge prohibited; fine of $50 to $500

Oklahoma:
Employees affected: Any voter
Time allowed: 2 hours, more if necessary, except where employee has 3 hours before or after work to vote
Must employee be paid? Yes if vote is cast
Must employee make application? Yes
May employer specify hours? Yes
Penalty of violation: Fine of $50 to $100

South Dakota:
Employees affected: Any voter
Time allowed: 2 hours, unless polls open 2 non-working hours
Must employee be paid? Yes
May employer specify hours? Yes
Penalty of violation: Fine up to $200 and/or jail up to 30 days

Tennessee:
Employees affected: Any voter
Time allowed: Up to 3 hours unless polls open 3 hours before or after work
Must employee be paid? Yes
Must employee make application? Yes
May employer specify hours? Yes

Texas:
Employees affected: Any voter
Time allowed: Amount not specified; none if polls open for 2 non-working hours
Must employee be paid? Yes
May employer specify hours? Yes
Penalty of violation: Fine up to $500

Utah:
Employees affected: Any voter
Time Allowed: 2 hours between opening and closing of polls, unless polls open 3 or more non-working hours
Must employee be paid? Yes
Must employee make application? Yes
May employer specify hours? Yes
Penalty of violation: Fine up to $1,000 and/or jail up to 6 months; for corporations, fine up to $5,000

Washington:
Employees affected: Any voter
Time Allowed: Up to 2 hours
Must employee be paid? Yes

West Virginia:
Employees affected: Any voter
Time Allowed: Up to 3 hours, if necessary, between opening and closing of polls
Must employee be paid? Yes, unless he or she has 3 hours non-working time to vote and chooses not to do so
Must employee make application? Yes, in writing 3 days before election
May employer specify hours? Yes
Penalty of violation: For corporations, fine up to $1,000; other employers/ individuals, fine up to $500 and/or jail up to 6 months

Wisconsin:
Employees affected: Any voter
Time Allowed: Up to 3 hours while polls open
Must employee be paid? No
Must employee make application? Yes
May employer specify hours? Yes

Wyoming:
Employees affected: Any voter
Time Allowed: 1 hour, unless polls open 3 or more consecutive non-working hours
Must employee be paid? Yes, if vote is cast
May employer specify hours? Yes, exclusive of meal times
Penalty of violation: Fine up to $1,000 and/or county jail up to 6 months

For more information about time off for voting laws in your state, visit the National Conference of State Legislatures at http://www.ncsl.org/programs/legismgt/elect/electlaws.htm.