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Georgia business community expresses concern over voting restrictions

Demonstrators protest legislation that aims to restrict early voting hours, remove drop boxes and require use of a government-issued ID when voting by mail outside of the Georgia Capitol on March 8. (Megan Varner/Getty Images)

This story has been updated.

Civil liberties groups are ratcheting up pressure on major corporations based in Georgia — including Coca-Cola, Aflac, Delta Air Lines, Home Depot and UPS — to oppose a Republican-led effort to make it harder to vote in the Peach State.

It’s a continuation of a dynamic that emerged after the Jan. 6 insurrection, when a violent mob stormed the U.S. Capitol on the erroneous belief that widespread fraud handed the 2020 election to President Biden: Facing intractable opposition from lawmakers determined to restrict voting, voting-rights advocates are taking their case directly to Republican lawmakers’ allies in the business community.

On Friday, the advocates scored a win when the Georgia Chamber of Commerce issued a statement expressing “concern and opposition” to the measures under consideration in the legislature, which would end no-excuse absentee voting, limit early voting hours, restrict drop-boxes for mail ballots, and curtail early voting on Sundays.

Representatives from Coca-Cola and Home Depot told The Washington Post that their companies are “aligned” with the Chamber’s comments. But the activists want the Chamber’s individual member companies to do more — and they say the state’s Black voters, who make up 30 percent of the state’s electorate and have billions in collective spending power, are watching.

How GOP-backed voting measures could create hurdles for tens of millions of voters

The Georgia bills, HB 531 and SB 241, are part of a nationwide GOP-led effort to restrict voting; more than 250 pieces of legislation with implications for tens of millions of voters have been proposed in 43 states, potentially ushering in the “most sweeping contraction of ballot access in the United States since the end of Reconstruction,” according to a Washington Post analysis.

Following Democratic victories in the 2020 election, state Republican lawmakers across the country are proposing new laws that would restrict access to voting. (Video: Mahlia Posey/The Washington Post, Photo: Salwan Georges/The Washington Post)

Stacey Abrams, a Democratic power broker in Georgia, called the bills “racist” and likened them to “Jim Crow in a suit and tie.” Critics say Black voters would be especially affected by limits on early Sunday voting, which has long been key to Black churches’ get-out-the-vote efforts, colloquially known as “souls to the polls.”

As the bills advanced through Georgia’s legislature, the state’s voting-rights advocates have called on the business community to oppose them. Civil liberties groups have taken out full-page ads in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, calling on major corporations headquartered in Georgia to “protect democracy” by opposing the bills. The Service Employees International Union and Progress Georgia recently began running digital ads targeting the same companies and highlighting the spending power of Black Georgians.

“Georgia is backsliding toward a twisted electoral system built on suppressing and manipulating Black votes,” said Black Voters Matter founders LaTosha Brown and Cliff Albright in a statement announcing the group’s campaign. “This is not only blatant voter suppression; it’s an act of retribution against Black voting power.” Black voters in Georgia are widely credited with tipping the scales toward the Democratic candidates in the January runoff election that decided partisan control of the Senate.

This wouldn’t be the first time Georgia businesses have been called on to take sides in a political fight. In 2016, Georgia’s Republican governor vetoed a so-called “religious freedom” bill after the business community, sports leagues and civil liberties groups criticized it as being anti-gay. In 2019, a threatened Hollywood boycott failed to stall one of the nation’s strictest antiabortion bills, which was signed into law by Republican Gov. Brian Kemp.

Jimmy Carter says he’s sad, angry over Georgia voting bills

Though Coca-Cola and Home Depot representatives said their companies were “aligned” with the Chamber, other companies targeted by voting-rights activists have instead issued cautious statements of principle that neither endorsed nor opposed any particular proposal.

“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,” a representative from Delta said in response to an inquiry from The Post.

A UPS spokesperson told CNBC that the global shipper “believes in the importance of the democratic process and supports facilitating the ability of all eligible voters to exercise their civic duty.”

Two arrested in assault on police officer Brian D. Sicknick, who died after Jan. 6 Capitol riot

The caution underscores the delicate position many major businesses have found themselves in since the Jan. 6 insurrection. On one hand, they don’t want to alienate their traditional allies in the Republican caucus: As independent journalist Judd Legum has documented, Coca-Cola, Delta and other companies have given tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions to the sponsors of the Georgia bills.

Supporters of the voting restrictions in Georgia and elsewhere cite false claims of widespread voter fraud during the 2020 election as proof of their necessity. Former president Donald Trump’s relentless attacks on the integrity of the election galvanized the mob that swarmed the U.S. Capitol in a bid to prevent lawmakers from certifying election results. The riot resulted in the deaths of one police officer and four others.

Separately, prosecutors in Georgia have opened a criminal investigation into whether Trump improperly pressured state election officials as he attempted to get the election results overturned.

‘I just want to find 11,780 votes’: Trump pressures Georgia secretary of state to recalculate the vote in his favor

But the party’s recent shift toward unprecedented voting restrictions has enraged a significant portion of the electorate, and if the companies are seen as endorsing those restrictions it may be harmful to their bottom line.

“These corporations talk a big game about racial justice,” said SEIU’s Chris Baumann in a statement. “But if the companies that profit from Black and brown people claim they back all Georgians, then they have to show up now when it counts.”

Note: After publication of this story, a representative from Home Depot clarified that being “aligned” with the Chamber doesn’t mean they’re opposed to the proposed voting restrictions. The headline and some wording within the story has been updated to reflect this.

The Jan. 6 insurrection

Congressional hearings: The House committee investigating the attack on the U.S. Capitol held a series of high-profile hearings to share its findings with the U.S. public. What was likely to be the panel’s final public hearing has been postponed because of Hurricane Ian. Here’s a guide to the biggest hearing moments so far.

Will there be charges? The committee could make criminal referrals of former president Donald Trump over his role in the attack, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) said in an interview.

What we know about what Trump did on Jan. 6: New details emerged when Hutchinson testified before the committee and shared what she saw and heard on Jan. 6.

The riot: On Jan. 6, 2021, a pro-Trump mob stormed the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to stop the certification of the 2020 election results. Five people died on that day or in the immediate aftermath, and 140 police officers were assaulted.

Inside the siege: During the rampage, rioters came perilously close to penetrating the inner sanctums of the building while lawmakers were still there, including former vice president Mike Pence. The Washington Post examined text messages, photos and videos to create a video timeline of what happened on Jan. 6.