Business leaders push back against voter restriction laws

More than 100 corporate leaders joined in a Zoom call on Saturday to discuss ways they could counter new voting regulations that some see as a move to reduce electoral participation.

Their call was convened in response to new rules in Georgia, signed into law by the governor on March 31, which critics say brings back Jim Crow-era restrictions. 

Executives who have said they would sign on include ones from: Pepsi, PayPal, Starbucks, AMC Entertainment, Merck, Hess and T. Rowe Price, according to The Wall Street Journal

Among the most controversial elements are a rule that early voting for some elections cannot be carried out on a Sunday – a move which critics see as an attack on the ‘souls to the polls’ work done by many black-majority churches – and a ban on handing out food and drink to those waiting in line to vote.

Voters are seen in line on October 12 in Decatur, Georgia - a state which passed new voting laws

Voters are seen in line on October 12 in Decatur, Georgia – a state which passed new voting laws

Last month 72 black executives signed a letter criticizing Georgia’s bill, which proponents say is intended to make elections more secure.

On Saturday’s call, many senior business leaders spoke out in favor of another letter from many more executives, said Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, a Yale School of Management professor who helped convene the gathering.

‘They don’t want wedge issues,’ said Sonnenfeld, speaking to The Wall Street Journal

‘They just don’t want angry constituencies. 

‘It’s not in the interest of business.’ 

Among the companies who have said they would support moves to condemn the new laws are Pepsi, PayPal and T. Rowe Price, said Kenneth Chenault, the former chief executive of American Express, who organized the black executives’ letter. 

Five bills with new voter restrictions have been passed nationwide so far, with 55 restrictive bills in 24 states being considered by legislatures, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, a nonpartisan law and policy institute. 

Mellody Hobson, chairwoman of Starbucks’ board, said on the call that political unrest is bad for business, the WSJ reported.

She said that business executives should work together on voting issues.

Mellody Hobson (above) was among the executives to speak out against the new laws

Mellody Hobson (above) was among the executives to speak out against the new laws

Hobson said the bills had the potential to spark unrest, which was bad for them all

Hobson said the bills had the potential to spark unrest, which was bad for them all

Home Depot founder and NFL owner Arthur Blank said fans expect answers from companies

Home Depot founder and NFL owner Arthur Blank said fans expect answers from companies

Arthur Blank, founder of Home Depot and owner of the Atlanta Falcons NFL team and Atlanta United soccer team, as well as the PGA Tour Superstore, said he believes many sports fans want the groups to make their positions known on voting rights.

Blank said he felt sports fans were expecting more from their teams compared with five years ago, when NFL player Colin Kaepernick first spoke out on racial justice.

Lynn Forester de Rothschild, director of Estee Lauder, said that she was proud to support a statement against limiting voter participation.

Forester de Rothschild is the founder of the Coalition for Inclusive Capitalism, a group that focuses on bridging the wealth divide. 

Many of the business leaders on the call did not speak out, and concerns remain about a backlash.

Voters line up in Smyrna, Georgia in October 2020. Two dozen states are considering new bills

Voters line up in Smyrna, Georgia in October 2020. Two dozen states are considering new bills

Donald Trump has condemned the move by Coca Cola, Major League Baseball, Delta Air Lines, Citigroup, ViacomCBS, UPS and other companies to speak out against Georgia’s bill.

Baseball officials decided to move the All-Star Game this summer from Georgia to Colorado because of the voting bill.

President Joe Biden has likened the new law to ‘Jim Crow’ – a reference to the institutional segregation that denied African-Americans civil rights in the South in the decades following the Civil War. He has lauded companies, including outdoor retailer Patagonia, that have spoken against the law. 

Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation, who plans to sign the new statement, said that many CEOs have told him they do not see the need for laws to tighten voter access.

But, he told The Washington Post, many are fearful of speaking out.

‘There is no more difficult job in America today than leading a public company,’ he said. 

‘There are so many stakeholders who have a point of view about what ought to be the priority of your company, and have views that are sometimes diametrically opposed.’

What does Georgia’s new GOP election law do? 

By Associated Press

CAN THE STATE TAKE OVER LOCAL ELECTION OFFICES?

Much of the work administering elections in Georgia is handled by the state’s 159 counties. The law gives the State Election Board new powers to intervene in county election offices and to remove and replace local election officials. That has led to concerns that the Republican-controlled state board could exert more influence over the administration of elections, including the certification of county results. 

One target for intervention could be Fulton County, a Democratic stronghold that contains most of Atlanta. The heavily populated county has been plagued by problems, including long lines, and it is often singled out by Republican officials. Under the law, the board could intervene in up to four counties at a time and install a temporary superintendent with the ability to hire and fire personnel including elections directors and poll officers. 

ARE PEOPLE BANNED FROM HANDING OUT SNACKS OR WATER TO VOTERS IN LINE? 

The new law makes it a misdemeanor to hand out ‘any money or gifts, including, but not limited to, food and drink’ to anyone standing in line to vote. The prohibition extends 150 feet from a polling place and 25 feet from any person standing in line.

Advocates of the law say they are attempting to crack down on political organizations or advocacy groups trying to influence voters just before they cast a ballot. 

Critics say it’s cruel and would penalize even nonpartisan groups or individuals for something as simple as giving water to someone waiting in a long line. 

Polling places would be able to, but not required to, set up self-serve water dispensers for voters. 

DOES THE BILL ELIMINATE SUNDAY VOTING? 

Republicans had proposed at one time to limit early voting on weekends, a time when many Black churches conduct ‘souls to the polls’ efforts to take congregants to vote. But Republicans reversed themselves, and the measure now expands weekend early voting. 

Previously, one day of weekend voting was required, with counties given the option of offering more. Now two Saturdays will be required, and counties can offer two Sunday voting days as well. Republicans point to this provision to argue they are actually expanding, rather than restricting, voting access. 

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