Georgia voting rights activists pressure big corporations to oppose GOP-backed ballot restrictions

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Civil rights and activist groups are turning up the pressure on large Georgia companies like Coca-Cola and Delta Airlines to oppose sweeping voting restrictions proposed by Republican state legislators.

“We’ve got the power of organized people. They’ve got the power of organized money. And between us and them, we could put pressure on these legislators or, worst case scenario, the governor to kill these bills,” Cliff Albright, co-founder of Black Voters Matter, told CNBC.

Groups including Black Voters Matter, the New Georgia Project Action Fund and the Georgia NAACP on Friday launched the next phase of their campaign in local press and on social media asking supporters to directly contact CEOs, presidents and headquarters of major Georgia-based corporations. They’re urging them to speak out publicly against the proposed voting restrictions and to stop donating money to the Republican legislators sponsoring the bills.

The voter restriction bills come after historic turnout from Georgia voters — particularly from Black voters and voters of color — during the November general and January runoff elections, where Republicans lost the presidential and U.S. Senate races for the first time in decades.

“It’s very, very disappointing after the outpouring of civic engagement all across the state that the legislature would then seek to make it more difficult for Georgia citizens to participate in choosing their elected officials,” Andrea Young, executive director of the Georgia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said in an interview.

Republican lawmakers in March passed a bill in the state Senate that would eliminate no-excuse absentee voting, and in the House that would limit weekend early voting, increase ID requirements for absentee voting and restrict ballot drop boxes: SB 241 and HB 531. These proposed restrictions would disproportionately harm Black voters, an analysis by the Brennan Center for Justice found. 

Advocacy groups are turning to Georgia’s powerful business community because they say trying to sway GOP lawmakers alone has little effect.

“These companies employ hundreds of thousands of Georgia voters who are going to directly be impacted by these laws,” Nse Ufot, CEO of the New Georgia Project, told CNBC. “Voter suppression is not good for business.” 

The coalition is focusing on six of the biggest companies in Georgia — Aflac, Coca-Cola, Delta Airlines, Home Depot, Southern Company and UPS — with full-page ads, demonstrations and text banks. A March 3 investigation by Popular Information found the six corporations gave a combined $190,800 to co-sponsors of HB 531 and SB 241 since 2018.

The activists’ work seems to be seeing some results. Business boosters have come out against certain provisions in the proposed voter restrictions since advocates started their pressure campaign.

The Georgia Chamber of Commerce previously reiterated the importance of voting rights without voicing opposition against any specific legislation. In a new statement to CNBC, the Georgia Chamber said it has “expressed concern and opposition to provisions found in both HB 531 and SB 241 that restrict or diminish voter access” and “continues to engage in a bipartisan manner with leaders of the General Assembly on bills that would impact voting rights in our state.”

Dave Williams, SVP of public policy of the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, said in a statement Monday: “Repealing no-excuse absentee voting does little to make the process more secure, and does so at great risk to participation.”

The Georgia Greater Black Chamber of Commerce told CNBC in a statement: “As for HB 531 and SB 241 Legislators should not rely on the ‘Urgency’ to get these bills signed, take a step back, be open to views that are different and do what is ‘RIGHT’; the Black Business and Community Leaders have expressed they are ‘OPPOSED’. And GGBCC represents them.”

Most of the corporations have not taken a stance in the voting rights debate, instead offering broad stances on voting and elections. All six companies belong to the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, and all but Aflac belong to the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce.

Aflac, Coca-Cola, Delta, Home Depot and UPS reiterated their support for fair and secure elections and equal voter participation in statements to CNBC. Southern Company did not respond to CNBC’s request for comment.

Georgia corporations have come out strongly against legislation in the past, like a “religious liberty” bill in 2016 that would have allowed discrimination against same-sex couples. They’ve also mostly stood silent in other debates, like a “heartbeat” anti-abortion bill in 2019 that was ruled unconstitutional in 2020.

Conservative Georgia lawmakers in the past have punished Georgia corporations for certain political moves. Republican legislators killed a major airline tax break after Delta pulled discounts for a National Rifle Association members.

CNBC has reached out to the Georgia Senate and House Republican Caucuses for comment on the corporate accountability campaigns.

Voting rights activists are not impressed with the statements companies have offered so far on the voting rights debate. 

“We need a full throated repudiation of these bills,” New Georgia Project’s Ufot said. “What is your affirmation of how important democracy is when you are witnessing democracy being attacked and you’re silent about it?”

Jerry Gonzalez, chief executive of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials, compared the bills to the notorious voting restrictions that kept people of color from casting ballots in the South before the civil rights movement ushered in the Voting Rights Act in the 1960s.

“We have been talking to business partners and chambers of commerce to get them to step up,” Gonzalez told CNBC. “Many of them have taken a strong stand on racial justice issues. Well, this is a Jim Crow voting rights attack that is happening right now.”

Former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams said business leaders should take an unequivocal stance against the proposed voting restrictions in Georgia and other states on a Tuesday call with voting rights organizations Fair Fight Action, which she founded, and More Than A Vote, founded by NBA superstar LeBron James, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

“There should be no silence from the business community when anyone in power is trying to strip away the right to vote from the people,” Abrams said on the call. “There should be a hue and cry.”

Bernice King, the daughter of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., said Wednesday she wrote a letter urging CEOs of Georgia-based corporations to oppose the bills and to use their influence with Georgia state legislators to block restrictive legislation.

“It’s not going to be business as usual,” Black Voters Matter’s Albright said. “If you can’t get involved in the business of fighting for democracy, then we’re going to have to get involved in your business.”

Read the statements from companies and business groups below:

Aflac

The right to vote in national, state and local elections is the cornerstone of democracy. We need to join together to ensure accessible and secure voting while preserving election integrity and transparency. As this important issue is debated in Georgia and statehouses across the nation, we expect that fairness and integrity will be the ongoing basis for discussion.

Coca-Cola

Voting is a foundational right in America, and we will continue to work to advance voting rights and access in Georgia and across the country. We support efforts by the Metro Atlanta Chamber and the Georgia Chamber of Commerce to help facilitate a balanced approach to the elections bills that have been introduced in the Georgia Legislature this session.  The ultimate goal should be fair, secure elections where access to voting is broad-based and inclusive.

Delta

Delta is more than 75,000 strong – and our shared values call on us to make our voices heard and be engaged members of our communities, of which voting is a vital part of that responsibility. Ensuring an election system that promotes broad voter participation, equal access to the polls, and fair, secure elections processes are critical to voter confidence and creates an environment that ensures everyone’s vote is counted.

Home Depot

We believe that all elections should be accessible, fair and secure and support broad voter participation. We’ll continue to work to ensure our associates, both in Georgia and across the country, have the information and resources to vote.

UPS

UPS believes in the importance of the democratic process and supports facilitating the ability of all eligible voters to exercise their civic duty. We are committed to voter awareness and engagement. In the last election, UPS ran an education campaign for our employees called “Drive the Vote” to encourage employees to vote. The Drive the Vote campaign was nonpartisan and endorsed no specific candidate or party. Like other businesses in the community, we are working with the Metro Atlanta Chamber and the Georgia Chamber to ensure equitable access to the polls and the integrity of the election process across the state.

Dave Williams, SVP Public Policy of the Metro Atlanta Chamber:

Broad voter participation, equal access to the polls, and fair, secure elections processes are critical to voter confidence and contribute to a business environment that fosters growth and vitality. We continue to work closely with members of the Georgia General Assembly to help facilitate a balanced approach to the elections bills that have been introduced this session. We are carefully evaluating the impact the bills would have on equitable access to the polls and elections integrity in our state. 

As we assess specific elections legislation, we will continue to rely on our core values related to elections:  

We believe Georgia’s elections process should be fair, secure, accurate, and equally accessible to all eligible Georgia voters.

We believe our state and local governments should do everything possible to maximize voter participation and minimize unnecessary obstacles in our elections, while working to ensure election integrity.

We are committed to voter education and broad engagement in the electoral process. Our past actions have demonstrated this commitment; our future actions will do the same.

We continue to advocate for balanced legislation that makes voting more accessible and more secure. Repealing no-excuse absentee voting does little to make the process more secure, and does so at great risk to participation.

Georgia Chamber of Commerce

The Georgia Chamber continues to engage in a bipartisan manner with leaders of the General Assembly on bills that would impact voting rights in our state. We have expressed concern and opposition to provisions found in both HB 531 and SB 241 that restrict or diminish voter access. As these two omnibus bills move through the legislative process, we will continue to work on ensuring both accessibility and security within our voting system.

Georgia Greater Black Chamber of Commerce

GGBCC affirms, “All Eligible voters should be able to vote in Georgia.” As for HB 531 and SB 241 Legislators should not rely on the “Urgency” to get these bills signed, take a step back, be open to views that are different and do what is “RIGHT”; the Black Business and Community Leaders have expressed they are “OPPOSED”. And GGBCC represents them.

“Our organization plays a very vital role in contributing to the economic growth in Georgia,” states GGBCC’s CEO Melinda Sylvester.  “Accordingly, we believe it is our civic duty to stand with all voters in our great state.  In so doing, we are exhibiting our collective strength to assure that the efforts of our Bridge Builder Initiative can continue to be building blocks for continued and future success for all Georgians.” The organization is, further, encouraging all GGBCC, business owners and aspiring business owners to get engaged and stay in contact with their respective legislators.





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