If it’s signed by Cuomo, the bill would allow formerly incarcerated people convicted of felonies to register to vote and vote in elections at local, state, and federal levels.
In 2018, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order that restored voting rights to people with felony convictions, but the new bill would make that permanent, according to ABC News.
It would also change the length of time time in which formerly convicted people have to wait before registering to vote or voting – instead of waiting until the final date of their sentence, they would be able to register once they are on parole, according to the Legislative Gazette.
The letter, which ran as a full-page ad in the Wednesday edition of The New York Times and Washington Post, opposed “any discriminatory legislation” that limited people’s ability to vote. United Airlines, American Express, Facebook, Target, investor Warren Buffett, and others joined the effort.
But, the Times reported, several companies declined to sign Wednesday’s letter, including Georgia-based Coca-Cola, Delta, and Home Depot, as well as Walmart and JPMorgan Chase.
“We publicly made our own strong statement last month about the critical importance of every citizen being able to exercise their fundamental right to vote,” a spokesperson for JPMorgan said.
The bank’s chief executive, Jamie Dimon, was one of the first major business leaders to speak out against the law, saying on CNN that he encourages workers to exercise their right to vote and opposes any efforts that would prevent them from doing so.
When asked about not signing onto Wednesday’s statement, a spokesperson for Home Depot said: “We’ve decided that the most appropriate approach for us to take is to continue to underscore our belief that all elections should be accessible, fair and secure and support broad voter participation, and to continue to work to ensure our associates in Georgia and across the country have the information and resources to vote.”
Coca-Cola didn’t respond to a request for comment. The beverage-maker faced consumer boycotts last month for not doing enough to oppose the bill. It later said it wanted to be “crystal clear” that it was disappointed in the outcome of the Georgia voting law. That sparked former President Donald Trump, a noted Diet Coke fanatic, to tell his followers to protest the company.
Delta and Walmart also didn’t respond to Insider’s request for comment.
Amid pressure to condemn the Georgia voting law, Delta CEO Ed Bastian blasted the legislation last month, saying it was “based on a lie.”
The Times reported that Walmart CEO Doug McMillon told employees in a note that the company is “not in the business of partisan politics,” noting that the retailer focuses on business issues such as taxes and regulation. In the note, he added that “broad participation and trust in the election process” are essential to the integrity of elections.
In March, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed the election bill, known as SB202, into law. The legislation made ballot drop boxes permanent, but only at select locations during limited hours, and shortened the window for requesting absentee ballots. The law also banned ballot selfies, and expanded early voting dates and hours in most counties, among other restrictive measures.
Georgia’s Senate Bill 202 is by far the most draconian law passed by any state legislature with respect to restricting access to voting. This is merely an opening salvo in a widespread assault on the right to vote, and other Republican-controlled state legislatures are hoping to pass similar bills. The only way to head off the wave of attacks on the fundamental right of all citizens to have equal access to vote is for Democrats to use their slim majorities to immediately pass new voter protections. If HR 1 (the For The People Act) and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act don’t become law, Georgia’s anti-voting law will become just one of many.
Republicans are moving the goal-post
A New York Times analysis of the new Georgia elections law (SB 202) found that, among other things, it limits the window of time to request an absentee ballot, makes it illegal for election officials to mail absentee ballots to all voters, levies criminal penalties for anyone who gives water to voters in long lines, severely limits the number of ballot drop boxes, and replaces the secretary of state as chair of the State Election Board with someone elected from the state legislature. The Georgia legislature (which has been under Republican control since 2005) also now has the power to remove municipal and county election officials and replace them with people appointed by partisan state lawmakers.
Georgia Governor Brian Kemp (R) has argued the new law is necessary to make the state’s elections “secure, accessible, and fair.” This is despite Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State, Brad Raffensperger, stating in a Washington Post op-ed that “Georgia’s voting system has never been more secure or trustworthy.” Even Georgia Lieutenant Governor Geoff Duncan (R) thought the bill went too far to curb access to voting.
Various civil rights groups have since filed a legal challenge to SB 202, petitioning for the law to be rendered unconstitutional and in violation of the Voting Rights Act. But because Georgia is part of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, and because a majority of the circuit’s judges were appointed by Republican presidents, SB 202 may very well be upheld. Even if the 11th Circuit struck down the law, appellants could end up swaying the United States Supreme Court, which maintains a 6-3 conservative majority. Moreover, Chief Justice John Roberts even wrote the majority opinion in the landmark voting rights case that opened the door for bills like SB 202 to become law across the country.
The 2013 Shelby County vs. Holder decision will undoubtedly be remembered in history books with the same level of disdain as the 1857 Dred Scott vs. Sandford decision. Both decisions created false racial hierarchies rendering Black people to second-class citizen status. Whereas Dred Scott declared Black people did not have the rights of citizenship, Shelby County declared that the portion of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 pertaining to protections for Black voters was unconstitutional. This released nine mostly Southern states – Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia – from getting “pre-clearance” from the federal judiciary before changing laws pertaining to voting rights. At the time, Justice Antonin Scalia justified his vote to eliminate those protections by saying the Voting Rights Act created “racial entitlement” for Black voters.
Just days after the Shelby County decision, the League of Women Voters warned that “the floodgates have opened” for widespread voter suppression legislation across the country and called for Congress to pass legislation guaranteeing everyone the right to vote. They were right: according to the Brennan Center for Justice, there are at least 361 bills awaiting action in 47 states that aim to curtail ballot access for voters. Five of those bills have already become law this year, and 29 bills have been passed by at least one legislative chamber. 49 of those bills are in Texas. And in Arizona and Georgia – states with Republican-controlled legislatures where Joe Biden narrowly defeated Donald Trump in the 2020 election – there are 23 and 25 pending voter suppression bills, respectively.
For Democrats, it’s now or never
The best way to beat back this wave of anti-voting bills is to pass federal legislation guaranteeing the absolute right of all citizens to cast a ballot. HR 1, which passed the House in March and is currently awaiting action in the Senate, would go a long way toward advancing that goal. Among other things, the bill would establish automatic voter registration, in which citizens are automatically registered on their state’s voter rolls when getting state-issued driver’s licenses and ID cards. It would also guarantee same-day voter registration for federal elections, which allows citizens to register to vote at their polling precinct on the day of the election. HR 1 also requires states to open up the early voting period at least two weeks before an election.
The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which was introduced in the Senate in the 116th Congress, is the perfect companion to HR 1. That bill restores the preclearance requirement in the Voting Rights Act that was undone by the Shelby County decision, forcing state governments to win approval from the federal bench before changing election laws. The Act also broadens cases in which the Department of Justice can send federal election observers to states that federal courts have deemed necessary to ensure adequate protections are in place for all voters.
While these bills are great antidotes for the wave of voter suppression bills being introduced across the country, they still have yet to overcome the key hurdle of the filibuster. Even though they don’t control the Senate, Republicans can still invoke the filibuster for any non-budgetary legislation, requiring an impenetrable 60-vote threshold first be met before a bill can even get an up-or-down vote. If they had a unified bloc, Democrats could make procedural maneuvers to eliminate the filibuster with Vice President Kamala Harris casting the tie-breaking vote. Centrist Democrat senators like Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema are still currently in favor of keeping the filibuster, dooming voting rights legislation to the legislative graveyard. However, President Joe Biden may be warming to the idea of limiting the power of the filibuster and could even be making moves behind the scenes to eliminate it entirely.
Biden has also notably appointed Gayle Manchin, Joe Manchin’s wife, to a “key position” in the White House, essentially tying Manchin’s family to his administration. It’s difficult to see how this isn’t a maneuver to placate Manchin in an effort to soften the senator’s position on the filibuster (admittedly a tall order given Manchin’s recent op-ed in favor of keeping it). In the event Manchin does eventually flip on the filibuster, Sinema could soon follow, not wanting to be seen as the lone obstacle in the way of significant voting rights expansion.
If Senate Democrats act to eliminate the filibuster, it should be done right away. As The Daily Poster recently pointed out, there are multiple septuagenarian senators from states with Republican governors. Should anything happen to aging senators like Patrick Leahy, Ed Markey, Bernie Sanders, or Elizabeth Warren, any one of them could be replaced with a Republican, abruptly ending Democrats’ control of the Senate and putting Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell back in the driver’s seat.
Democrats will have to decide relatively soon whether they’d rather keep a Jim Crow relic like the filibuster, or have new federal voting rights legislation. If they want any hope of stopping the relentless march of state-level, Republican-led voter suppression efforts, it’s obvious what must be done: Democrats should immediately nuke the filibuster and pass HR 1 and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, or kiss their majorities goodbye.
Carl Gibson is a freelance journalist whose work has been published in CNN, The Guardian, The Washington Post, The Houston Chronicle, Barron’s, The Independent, and NPR, among others. Follow him on Twitter @crgibs.
Numerous chief executives and senior leaders met on a Zoom call this weekend to map out how businesses should respond to new voting restrictions that are set to be enacted in Texas and other states across the country, according to The Wall Street Journal.
In the wake of the controversy surrounding Georgia’s new voting law, SB 202, with Major League Baseball pulling the 2021 All-Star Game from the state and companies like Coca-Cola and Delta pushing back against restrictive voting provisions, this effort would represent a significant development in the corporate sector weighing in on voting rights.
During the call, Kenneth Chenault, the former chief executive of American Express, and Kenneth Frazier, the chief executive officer of Merck & Co., asked the leaders to “collectively call for greater voting access,” according to the Journal report.
Chenault and Frazier, two of the most prominent Black business leaders in the US, also reportedly told businesses not to walk away from the voting right issue and requested that CEOs sign a statement “opposing what they view as discriminatory legislation on voting.”
The statement from a new constellation of business leaders could be released as soon as this week, according to the Journal.
Last month, 72 Black executives signed an open letter that was featured in The New York Times, asking for companies and business leaders to offer pushback against legislation that would infringe on voting rights.
Chenault informed the business executives on the call that several leaders would back the effort, including executives at PepsiCo, PayPal Holdings, T. Rowe Price, and Hess, among other companies.
“This is a nonpartisan issue, this is a moral issue,” he told the Journal last month.
Frazier said that as an increased number of states take up legislation similar to Georgia’s SB 202, companies have to take action.
“This is not a Georgia issue,” he told the Journal.
The Georgia law tightens election rules in the state by limiting drop boxes, strengthening voter identification requirements, and blocks the use of mobile voting vans, among other measures.
Mellody Hobson, the chairwoman of Starbucks Corp., said on the call that the controversies surrounding the new voting laws are “bad for business” and hopes that businesses can devise ways to work on voting issues, according to the Journal.
AMC CEO Adam Aron, Estée Lauder Cos. director Lynn Forester de Rothschild, and CyberCore Technologies CEO Tina Kuhn all reportedly backed the new statement, according to the Journal report.
As some companies have become increasingly vocal about voting access, Republican leaders from Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky have railed against pushback to the new legislation.
Kemp has accused business leaders of adhering to “cancel culture” and McConnell recently warned them not to become “a vehicle for far-left mobs.”
But some companies are hesitant to jump into any hotly-debated political issue altogether, aware that any position that take could alienate a portion of their business or customer base.
“It’s really a no-win situation from a corporate standpoint,” a Fortune 100 business executive told the Journal.
Major League Baseball took a strong, tangible stand against Georgia’s new voting law by moving the All-Star Game from Atlanta to Denver. More than 100 companies and CEOs, including Delta and Coke – two of the biggest businesses to call Atlanta home – matched this action with their words.
This is not the first time that corporations have needed to step forward to take on Republican policy madness – but it’s the latest encapsulation of the sad state of affairs in this country, where companies have a stronger moral compass than our political leaders.
Corporations saving the world
The MLB’s move against Georgia will hopefully serve as a shot across the bow for other states looking to make it harder for Black Americans to vote. While conservatives may cry that these decisions, made by private companies, are “cancel culture” on steroids – the GOP is only narrowing their field of play for future elections by declaring more and more of the country “against” them.
This is not the first time that companies have stepped in when Republican policies have stepped out. The most notable example is guns. As mass shooting after mass shooting after mass shooting has killed our children – Republicans in Washington have put up a bullet-proof roadblock against even common-sense, popular gun safety measures.
While most of America has been appalled by the GOP’s crooked interpretation of the Second Amendment, corporations took the matter into their own hands. Dick’s, the nation’s largest sporting goods retailer, stopped selling firearms at more than 400 of their stores, while Walmart raised the age required to purchase a gun to 21 after the horrific shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida.
As new states pass draconian laws endangering the health and well-being of trans youth, we’re reminded of how corporate pressure can force politicians to change. In 2016, after North Carolina’s passage of the so-called “bathroom bill,” which barred trans people from using the bathroom of their gender identity, numerous corporations took concrete steps to voice their opposition.
Companies also could choose to move their offices out of states with regressive voting laws or choose not to move there at all. Atlanta has a large entertainment industry that could easily find a home in a state that believes everyone should have easy, secure voting access. Moving to a less oppressive state would serve as a simultaneous economic and moral victory.
The slippery slope
The dramatically escalating national dysfunction led by Washington has brought us to this day. The fact that companies are the new standard bearers for common sense may be powerful today but is concerning long term.
The strength of our polity cannot rely on the moral force of profit. It can be a wakeup call, a force for logic, but it is a cover, not a foundation. Their day job is not to consider the whole. In theory, that responsibility belongs to our electeds. Both teams have failed us, but big business only feels the need to play when the Republicans are at their craziest.
If our leaders continue to falter, it is not sustainable for the basic functions of government to be turned over to corporations, where there is a natural ceiling. So if our politicians are incompetent and our companies are limited, the moment of truth will be when our country faces a crisis that is existential and not just manufactured by the GOP.
Corporate America is going through growing pains on political activism – but it’s still trying to fight off higher taxes. In the Biden era, the two may go hand in hand.
Long apolitical, the dynamic that emerged during the Trump years of big business weighing in on hot-button social issues has, if anything, accelerated in 2021, as reflected in the recent corporate outcry against Georgia’s recent legislation to restrict voting rights.
At nearly the same time, corporate America has been far less aligned with the progressive agenda of funding a large infrastructure and jobs plan with a boost to the corporate tax rate. In fact, only fours ago, in 2017, the business community cheered its biggest win on taxes in decades under former President Donald Trump, when the corporate rate was slashed from 35% all the way down to 21%.
As part of his $2.3 trillion infrastructure package. Biden wants to jack the corporate tax rate up to 28%. It represents a hit to corporate profits and many influential business groups are staunchly opposed to it, along with congressional Republicans.
The Chamber of Commerce’s chief policy officer, Neil Bradley, said the organization “agrees with the Biden administration that there is a great need to invest in American infrastructure and that ‘inaction is simply not an option.'” However, he added, “that doesn’t mean we should proceed with tax hikes that will hurt American businesses and cost American jobs.”
And Josh Bolten, chief executive officer of Business Roundtable, told Bloomberg TV on Thursday that Biden should stick with “real infrastructure” like roads and bridges – and he was “strongly against” the corporate tax hike.
Some individual business leaders are coming out in favor of Biden’s tax increase. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has said that the company is supportive of a rise in the corporate tax rate, although he didn’t specify what rate he supports. Lyft president and cofounder John Zimmer has thrown his support behind the 28% rate.
Many other companies are staying tight-lipped about how, exactly, they feel – while perhaps complaining in private, as reported by Politico.
Corporate taxes seen as a ‘less charged issue’
The corporate response on taxes is a sharp break from the outcry over Georgia. An open letter from 72 Black executives last week was quickly followed by another joint statement from over 170 business leaders urging state lawmakers against “imposing barriers that result in longer lines at the polls or that reduce access to secure ballot dropboxes.”
Companies in the latest letter included Microsoft, HP and Dow.
Vanessa Burbano, an assistant professor of management at Columbia Business School, said the phenomenon of companies taking political stances is relatively new. She said what companies do choose to speak out publicly about varies – although a handful of companies releasing their own statements does put pressure on others.
Doug Schuler, a professor of business and public policy at Rice University, argued the letter from Black CEOs opened the door for other prominent business figures to take a similar step.
He told Insider that his sense of what CEOS were trying to do was “to make statements to their customers, to their workforce, and perhaps investors they are sensitive to these social issues – it’s an issue they should be on the right side of.”
Agreeing to pay more in taxes to fund Biden’s plan to “build back better,” though? Many CEOs don’t want to be on the right side of that.
The corporate tax rate is “a less charged issue than some of the others that we’ve seen companies take stances on in the past, like including what happened in Georgia, including things related to immigration or LGBTQ rights or things like this that are sort of influence the individual stakeholder much more directly,” Burbano said.
Politicians are also divided
Sen. Joe Manchin, a moderate Democrat who’s a key vote in the Senate, has expressed his concerns over raising the rate to 28%. He’s more in favor of a 25% rate – and his support will prove pivotal to the eventual passage of any plan as Democrats grapple with slim majorities in Congress.
“Claims that American businesses cannot compete with a corporate tax rate above 28% ignore the clear and indisputable evidence to the contrary,” Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA), Chairman of the US Congress Joint Economic Committee and member of the House Ways and Means Committee, said in a statement to Insider.
He added: “It’s good to see support for a reasonable increase in the rate from business leaders as well as former top Republican economic adviser Gary Cohn,” referring to remarks made just last year by Trump’s former National Economic Council director that, actually, 28% would have been a decent place to arrive at in the 2017 tax law.
Republicans have repeatedly made their opposition to tax hikes clear. Top Republicans also blasted companies for wading into the country’s hot-button issues like voting rights.
“From election law to environmentalism to radical social agendas to the Second Amendment, parts of the private sector keep dabbling in behaving like a woke parallel government,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement. “Corporations will invite serious consequences if they become a vehicle for far-left mobs to hijack our country from outside the constitutional order.”
Experts like Schuler said large companies won’t weigh into every social issue unless the pressure to do so becomes impossible to cast aside. He pointed out that large businesses hadn’t weighed in on another set of proposed voting restrictions in Texas.
“To some extent, I think businesspeople want these issues to go away,” he said. “They hate it when the spotlight is on them.”
Manchin is the only Democratic senator who has not signed on as a cosponsor of the legislation this year, arguing that the federal government should not infringe on election law, which has generally been dictated by individual states.
The moderate senator has emphatically stated that a major elections reform bill must be crafted and passed with bipartisan consensus, which would including voting rights.
“Pushing through legislation of this magnitude on a partisan basis may garner short-term benefits, but will inevitably only exacerbate the distrust that millions of Americans harbor against the US government,” he said in a statement in late March.
Clyburn alleged that Manchin was elevating bipartisanship with Republicans over the voting rights of minority groups in the US.
“I’m insulted when he tells me that it’s more important to maintain a relationship with the minority in the US Senate than it is for you to maintain a relationship with the minority of voters in America,” Clyburn told The Huffington Post. “That’s insulting to me.”
Clyburn said Manchin was jeopardizing Democratic congressional majorities by not backing legislation that would reverse many of the most stringent voting restrictions being implemented by GOP-controlled states, including Georgia, where Sen. Raphael Warnock is up for reelection in 2022.
“Since when do their rights take precedence over your fellow Democrat Warnock, who saw his state just pass laws to keep him from getting reelected?” he asked. “And you’re going to say it’s more important for you to protect 50 Republicans in the Senate than for you to protect your fellow Democrat’s seat in Georgia. That’s a bunch of crap.”
The House passed H.R. 1 by a 220-210 vote in early March with almost unanimous backing among Democrats and no Republican support.
GOP Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has harshly criticized the bill, calling it a “power grab.” His conservative-dominated Republican caucus is overwhelmingly in agreement, making bipartisan support incredibly difficult, if not impossible.
With the likelihood of a GOP filibuster facing S. 1, Clyburn said that Senate Democrats need to alter filibuster rules to move the bill through the chamber.
“The issue of civil rights and voting rights, these constitutional issues, should never be sacrificed on the altar of the filibuster,” he said. “I’ve been saying that for a long time.”
He added: “I don’t understand why we can’t see that my constitutional rights should not be subjected to anybody’s filibuster.”
Clyburn said that if the party allowed the For the People Act to falter in the Senate, then it would “pay the biggest price it has ever paid at the polls” in 2022.
“That is an actual fact,” he said. “I think I know Black people. I’ve been Black 80 years.”
Clyburn, one of the most prominent Democratic politicians in the Deep South and the figure most credited with reviving President Joe Biden’s campaign in the 2020 Democratic primaries, said that he feels as though the president will push for the bill to get through the Senate.
After Biden won the presidential election last November, he gave a nod to Black voters in his acceptance speech, saying that the highly influential group and pillar of his electoral support “always had my back, and I’ll have yours.”
Recalling Biden’s statement from last year, Clyburn reiterated the president’s commitment to voting rights.
“The best way to have the backs of Black folks is to ensure the constitutional rights to cast an unfettered vote – there ain’t no better way than to do that,” Clyburn said. “Joe Biden is not going to allow the voting rights of Black people to be sacrificed on the altar of the filibuster.”
While all three issued generic statements in support of voting rights, critics accused the multibillion-dollar corporations, which have massive influence in national- and state-level politics, of failing to back up those words with actions – or their pocketbooks.
As Republican-led legislatures advance similar bills in Texas and other states, some companies have tried to get ahead of the backlash by issuing statements condemning efforts to restrict voting rights.
But many have a poor track record when it comes to supporting the lawmakers behind those efforts.
“It has been fifty-six years since the Voting Rights Act became law, yet efforts to disenfranchise Black people and other minorities continue to this day. The ability to vote is one of the most prized fundamental rights in our American democracy, and Amazon supports policies that protect and expand those rights,” Amazon PR and public policy chief Jay Carney said in a statement on Twitter.
“We oppose efforts in other states aimed at restricting the ability of Americans to vote,” Carney added.
But that’s not quite accurate, at least in terms of which politicians Amazon has supported. (Amazon did not respond to multiple requests for comment on this story).
Amazon spent $18.7 million on lobbying last year, an increase of 30% since 2018, making it the biggest spender in the US other than Facebook. Those expenditures help Amazon convince current members of Congress to pass laws that will benefit its business, like tax cuts and subsidies or bigger budgets for the government agencies it contracts with.
The company also gives money to congressional members and candidates to try to keep friendlier lawmakers in power or force unfriendly ones out. Amazon does that through its corporate Political Action Committee, which spent $1.9 million during the 2019-2020 election cycle alone, according to Insider’s analysis of Federal Election Commission data via Open Secrets.
Of the $1.3 million that Amazon’s PAC gave to individuals, $471,000 went to lawmakers who voted against the For the People Act, which would expand access to the ballot box, voter registration opportunities, and mail-in and early voting, as well as creating increased transparency in the US’ campaign finance system.
And many of those lawmakers have a long history of opposing efforts to expand voting rights, both at the federal and state level.
Of the 186 Republican House members who voted in 2019 against restoring key parts of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which would have made it harder for states like Georgia to pass voter suppression laws, Amazon supported 143 members, giving them a total of $510,000.
According to data from the Texas Ethics Commission, Amazon also gave $15,000 last year to Republican lawmakers in the state, despite years of the party passing notoriously restrictive and discriminatory voter ID laws.
Voting rights have been a hyperpartisan issue for years, with Republicans arguing that restrictive voting rules are needed to prevent widespread fraud. But independent experts within and outside of the US have proveddozens of times that fraud is extremely rare and has never affected the outcome of an election and that bills restricting voting rights disproportionately impact people of color.
Yet Amazon has continued to support GOP lawmakers who even opposed Congress’ last successful bipartisan voting rights law in 2002, the Help America Vote Act. Amazon gave a combined $53,500 to 12 of the members who fought that effort and are still in Congress over the past two years.
Dozens did, including Amazon, which had given $253,500 to 76 of those members, though it only promised to “suspend” those contributions, leaving the door open for the company to potentially resume its support closer to the 2022 congressional races.
Whether Amazon stands by its promise to oppose efforts “aimed at restricting the ability of Americans to vote” remains to be seen. But its spending record so far shows that it has often supported the lawmakers behind those exact efforts.
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms on Friday said that Major League Baseball’s decision to move the All-Star Game out of Georgia over its controversial new voting law is “likely” the start of more actions taken against the state.
“Just as elections have consequences, so do the actions of those who are elected,” she wrote. “Unfortunately, the removal of the MLB All Star game from GA is likely the 1st of many dominoes to fall, until the unnecessary barriers put in place to restrict access to the ballot box are removed.”
She added: “Boycotts in GA will hit the metro Atlanta hardest and have a ripple effect across the state. Small businesses, corporations that support our communities, and everyday working people will suffer. It is not too late to right this sinking ship.
MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred expressed on Friday that the decision to move the All-Star Game and MLB Draft was “the best way to demonstrate our values as a sport.”
“Major League Baseball fundamentally supports voting rights for all Americans and opposes restrictions to the ballot box,” he said in a statement. “Fair access to voting continues to have our game’s unwavering support.”
Since the law’s passage on March 25, major corporations, including Delta Airlines and Coca-Cola under pressure from politicians and activists, have more forcefully come out against its restrictive measures.
The conservative-backed law tightens election rules in the state by limiting drop boxes, strengthening voter identification requirements, blocking the usage of mobile voting vans, and even banning water and food from being distributed to voters waiting in line, among other measures.
GOP Gov. Brian Kemp, who signed the bill into law, flatly rejects claims that it reinforces voter suppression and said that the law makes it “easy to vote and hard to cheat.”
Kemp continued to express his displeasure with the situation on Twitter, lashing out at prominent Democrats.
“This attack on our state is the direct result of repeated lies from [President] Joe Biden and [former Georgia state House Minority Leader] Stacey Abrams about a bill that expands access to the ballot box and ensures the integrity of our elections,” he wrote. “I will not back down. Georgians will not be bullied. We will continue to stand up for secure, accessible, fair elections.”
Abrams, who was narrowly defeated by Kemp in the state’s 2018 gubernatorial race and could potentially run against the incumbent governor in 2022, said on Friday that she was “disappointed” by the move but was “proud” of the MLB’s support of voting rights.
“Like many Georgians, I am disappointed that the MLB is relocating the All-Star game; however, I commend the players, owners and League commissioner for speaking out,” she said in a statement. “As I have stated, I respect boycotts, although I don’t want to see Georgia families hurt by lost events and jobs. Georgians targeted by voter suppression will be hurt as opportunities go to other states. We should not abandon the victims of GOP malice and lies – we must stand together.”
Former President Barack Obama on Saturday praised the decision, making a nod to the late baseball icon Hank Aaron, who faced racial threats throughout his professional baseball career.
“Congratulations to MLB for taking a stand on behalf of voting rights for all citizens,” he wrote. “There’s no better way for America’s pastime to honor the great Hank Aaron, who always led by example.”
As of Saturday, MLB has not revealed the new host city for the 2021 All-Star Game.
Georgia quickly found itself in the crosshairs of then-President Donald Trump in the aftermath of the 2020 election. Joe Biden narrowly won the state and its 16 electoral votes, helping bolster his progressive mandate, but Trump did not let the state go to Biden without a fight.
Delta Air Lines, as Atlanta’s hometown airline and one of the largest companies in the state, took an interest in the bill and said it worked with the government to bar its “most egregious measures.” After its passage, Delta CEO Ed Bastian commented favorably on aspects of the legislation and lauded the efforts of Atlanta’s business community in shaping its outcome.
“The legislation signed this week improved considerably during the legislative process, and expands weekend voting, codifies Sunday voting and protects a voter’s ability to cast an absentee ballot without providing a reason,” Bastian said in a March 26 memo.
Delta’s response immediately sparked controversy as the airline was seen as supportive of the bill that included what opponents call voter suppression methods. Among others, the law requires a voter to present identification to vote absentee and the window for requesting an absentee ballot is shortened, as Insider’s Grace Panetta reported.
Bastian’s statement stunned industry observers that had been closely following Delta’s great strides in the area of diversity, equity, and inclusion over the years.
“Even before the George Floyd incident, Delta had been talking about the need to hire, mentor, provide professional development opportunities, and promote women and people of color and other groups who were underrepresented in Delta’s leadership,” Henry Harteveldt, travel industry analyst and co-founder of Atmosphere Research Group, told Insider.
Bastian, in response to the backlash, took a stronger position against the bill in a Wednesday memo.
“However, I need to make it crystal clear that the final bill is unacceptable and does not match Delta’s values,” Bastian clarified.
“The entire rationale for this bill was based on a lie: that there was widespread voter fraud in Georgia in the 2020 elections,” Bastian said. “This is simply not true.”
But by the time the Delta chief changed course, the hashtag #BoycottDelta had already gone viral on Twitter with more than 38,000 tweets mentioning the call to action, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Kemp also pushed back on Delta’s statement, saying: “Today’s statement by Delta CEO Ed Bastian stands in stark contrast to our conversations with the company, ignores the content of the new law, and unfortunately continues to spread the same false attacks being repeated by partisan activists.”
Inside Delta’s turbulent public relations week
Richard Levick, chairman and CEO of crisis management firm Levick, told Insider that the roots of Delta’s poor handling of the issue can trace back to the US Capitol Building riots and the George Floyd protests last year.
“[Delta] clearly missed, surprisingly, the import of what happened January 6 and thereafter in terms of companies pausing their [political action committees],” Levick said. “And they didn’t see the permanency of some of that.”
Levick likened the airline’s first statement to “sharpening the blade on the guillotine and saying, ‘look how much better we’ve made it.'”
Veteran communicators told Insider that Wednesday’s follow-up statement that unequivocally denounced the bill was the right move but Levick said the company should have been on the offensive early on, either by condemning the bill in its first statement or taken itself out of the bill’s formation.
Shying away from the spotlight also wasn’t really an option as Levick said that companies have to realize that we’re in a new era where they’re expected to take action in defense of important American institutions.
“They’re not going to have to take a position on everything political, they are going to have to realize that issues regarding race, access, democracy are things where there’s an expectation of their involvement or at least not their involvement on the wrong side,” Levick said.
“There is no longer brand neutrality on voter suppression,” according to Levick.
Delta is also too influential of an employer in Georgia not to get involved in landmark legislation in the state, even if the subject is outside of its primary purview of connecting the world through travel.
“The challenge with being a leader in any industry is that you’re a leader and so, you’re expected to be involved in things that a lot of other companies aren’t involved in,” John McDonald, a former American Airlines vice president for corporate communications and public affairs, told Insider. “You’re expected to make influential decision-making on subjects that aren’t necessarily core to your business.”
Levick says Delta should have let Bastian’s condemnation of the bill shine instead of bogging down the media with additional stories unless the airline had a genuine business reason for announcing its new policies when it did. March 31 was the end of 2021’s first fiscal quarter and it might just have been bad timing, McDonald said.
Delta now risks losing the goodwill that it has built up over the years stemming from its innovations in the industry and keen focus on social issues.
Staring down a potential boycott from its most influential customers
Individuals promising to boycott Delta won’t impact the airline’s operations too greatly. Consumers have reliably shown that they will book the cheapest and most convenient travel option, and Delta will often meet those criteria for many Georgians.
But if the business community turns it back on Delta, that could deal a serious blow to the airline’s bottom line. “Only when you get corporate accounts or large volume accounts that represent millions of dollars or more in business to an airline would any kind of a boycott really be meaningful,” Harteveldt said.
Dozens of Black executives have already spoken out against Georgia-based companies like Delta for not doing more to oppose the law, and a full boycott of the airline’s services could damage the airline. Corporate accounts are incredibly lucrative as firms spend top dollar when booking flights on everything from costly last-minute tickets to premium cabin seats for executives.
Bastian’s initial comments also impacted Delta employees.
“I think that Delta’s employees of color feel very let down by this,” Harteveldt said. “Over the weekend, I heard a lot from a lot of Delta employees, frontline workers, management, many workers who felt that the airline betrayed the values that it holds so dear.”
And it’s exactly those workers that Delta should have considered when issuing the first statement.
“I have to think that Delta looked at this largely through a public affairs lens and not through that broader, diverse, fully integrated lens that brought in other internal audience members and [asked], ‘how do you see this?'” Levick said.
McDonald noted, however, that these types of statements are often the result of discussions with politicians. All sides likely wanted to come out of this looking good and likely coordinated on what to say and how to say it.
But the public break between Delta and the state government has already yielded repercussions. Georgia’s House of Representatives on Wednesday night voted to repeal a tax on jet fuel that greatly benefits Delta, which has its largest hub at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.
If passed by the Georgia Senate and signed into law by Kemp, Delta will be forced to pay more in fuel costs in the state, a costly expense that would come as the airline attempts a financial recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.
A cautionary tale for airlines
As more states take on the issue of voter rights in their legislatures, major companies will have to take note and Delta won’t be the last airline forced to take a side on this issue. American Airlines took a stand on similar legislation passed in Texas on Thursday, boldly proclaiming: “To make American’s stance clear: We are strongly opposed to this bill and others like it.”
As for Delta’s next move, Levick suggested the airline should do nothing more and hold firm in its condemnation.
“Don’t just do something, stand there,” Levick said.