US companies are under pressure to resist
Protesters gather outside the Georgia State Capitol to protest HB 531, which would tighten Georgia election restrictions in Atlanta, Georgia, the United States, on March 4, 2021.
Dustin Chambers | Reuters
US corporations are facing growing pressure and threats of boycotts to publicly oppose Republican-backed electoral laws in Georgia and other states that critics claim undermine the voting rights of black Americans.
Opposition intensified on Friday when Major League Baseball announced it would no longer hold the 2021 Atlanta All-Star Game this summer. Commissioner Robert Manfred said the league “fundamentally supports voting rights for all Americans and opposes ballot box restrictions”.
Brian Kemp, Governor of GOP Georgia, signed an election revision bill last week that introduces new postal voting identification requirements and gives lawmakers more control over how elections are conducted.
Legislation prohibits third groups from giving food or water to voters in line, and sets strict guidelines for the availability and location of ballot boxes. It also provides for two Saturdays early voting leading to general elections. So far it only took one day.
Civil rights groups and activists have pressured some of Georgia’s largest corporations, including Delta Air Lines and Coca-Cola, to defy the law. Coke and Delta didn’t speak out loudly against the legislation before it was passed, but their CEOs have since condemned the law.
Following the passage of the law, pressure on companies increased after Merck CEO Ken Frazier and other Black executives organized a public campaign to urge companies to call for the legislation.
It is unclear whether a backlash from the business community will change the outcome in Georgia, where the law was passed. Civil rights groups have challenged it in court, and President Joe Biden said the US Department of Justice would review what he called an “atrocity” bill.
James Quincey, CEO of Coke, told CNBC on Wednesday that the company had “always opposed” this legislation, calling it “wrong”.
“Now that it’s over, we’re getting out more publicly,” Quincey said.
James Quincey, President and CEO of Coca-Cola Co.
The President and Chief Operating Officer of the Coca-Cola Company, James Quincey.
Ed Bastian, Delta CEO, initially said the legislation has “improved significantly” and offers broad support for voting rights. He reversed course in a memo to the employee on Wednesday, saying the “final bill is unacceptable and inconsistent with Delta’s values.” Delta is Georgia’s largest employer.
Bastian also tore at Republican lawmakers’ motivation for the bill, suggesting that “the entire rationale for this bill was based on a lie: that there was widespread electoral fraud in Georgia in the 2020 elections”.
In November, Biden became the first Democrat since 1992 to win Georgia. In January’s runoff election, voters also elected two Senate Democrats, Sens. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff. Former President Donald Trump and other Republicans have falsely claimed that there was rampant electoral fraud in Georgia last year.
AT&T is based in Texas but gave money to Kemp’s campaign and sponsorship of the legislation. The company’s CEO, John Stankey, told CNBC in a statement:
“We understand that electoral laws are complicated, not our company’s expertise and ultimately the responsibility of elected officials. However, as a company, we have a responsibility to get involved. This is why we work with other companies through groups like the company around the table in support of efforts to improve each person’s ability to choose. “
In an interview Wednesday on CNBC’s “Closing Bell”, Kemp dismissed the company’s reaction to the state’s electoral legislation, saying he was “glad to deal with it”. He added, “I would encourage these CEOs to look at other states they do business in and compare the real facts to Georgia.”
Suffrage activist and former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams called on critics this week not to boycott Georgia’s big corporations for not speaking out against the electoral law. Instead, she said companies should be able to publicly oppose the law and support federal electoral law before encountering a boycott.
“The companies that stood quietly by or gave floury answers during the debate were wrong,” Abrams told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “What people want to know now is where they stand on this fundamental issue of voting rights.”
Texas electoral laws are under scrutiny
As Georgian law is signed, electoral laws in a number of other states, particularly Texas, are under scrutiny. When pressuring companies to speak up, Merck’s Frazier claimed Georgia was “at the forefront of a movement across the country to restrict access to voting”.
According to an analysis by the Brennan Center for Justice, there were 361 bills in 47 states that contain provisions that would restrict access to voting rights as of March 24th.
The proposals in state houses in the US come as Washington Democrats try to push legislation known as the For the People Act. Proponents say this would make registration and voting easier while preventing the campaign funding rules from being tampered with and reformed. Some Republicans who speak out against the legislation say it will result in the general election being exceeded.
Last month, the US House passed its version of the For the People Act without a single Republican vote. The future in the Senate is uncertain as it takes at least 10 GOP votes to overcome a filibuster and get a final vote.
Texas powerhouse companies are also targeting bills that proponents of voting rights say would make it difficult to vote in Texas.
Senate Bill 7 was passed by the upper house of the state parliament on Thursday. Another bill known as House Bill 6 was under consideration in the Texas House of Representatives.
American Airlines, based in Fort Worth, Texas, issued a statement against Senate Bill 7 on Thursday. “To make the attitude of the Americans clear: we are strongly against this bill and others like it,” said the airline.
Michael Dell, CEO of Dell, whose technology company is based near the state capital Austin, wrote in a tweet that the company does not support House Bill 6.
“Free, fair and equitable access to elections is the foundation of American democracy. These rights – especially for women, color communities – were hard earned,” wrote Dell. “Governments should make sure that citizens hear their voices. HB6 is doing the opposite and we are against it.”