The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion States that pass Jim Crow-style voting laws will feel the backlash

Demonstrators in Atlanta on Monday participated in a "die-in" to protest legislation that would change the voting process in Georgia. (Alyssa Pointer/AP)
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Just last week, voting-rights titan Stacey Abrams called on corporate America to unequivocally denounce Republican efforts to roll back voting rights in her state of Georgia. “There should be not a single business owner in America who is allowed to be silent about the theft of the right to vote from any American, because that means you are standing with an ethos that was a near coup attempt in the United States,” she declared.

Billboards started to go up on Monday to press the case. CNN reported:

Voting rights groups in the state are launching a campaign Monday calling upon corporations to speak out publicly against legislation that they argue would suppress access to voting, especially among of people of color, who tend to support Democratic candidates.
“Hey Coca-Cola! The Freedom to vote tastes good to all Georgians,” one of the billboards reads. “Join us: STAND UP for Georgia.”
The billboards also are targeting other corporations based in the state, including Home Depot, Delta Air Lines and insurance provider Aflac.

A couple of Georgia businesses have already perked up. After the state’s Chamber of Commerce came out against anti-voting legislation, Coca-Cola and Home Depot said they were “aligned” with the Chamber, The Post reports. Other businesses have been quiet because they “don’t want to alienate their traditional allies in the Republican caucus.”

The response from voting advocates is simple: Tough. Democracy is not an issue on which any responsible corporate citizen can remain quiet. Georgians of all races will continue to hold businesses’ feet to the fire, implicitly threatening a devastating blow to these firms in a state with a substantial African American population.

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A variety of progressive groups are now engaged in peaceful protests, in addition to their newspaper and outdoor advertising offensive. Their collective actions may be having an effect. Gov. Brian Kemp and Georgia House Speaker David Ralston, both Republicans, have signaled they oppose curbs on absentee voting. Whether Kemp, who will be up for reelection next year, will veto such a measure remains to be seen.

Should any of these measures pass, economic pressure will surely ramp up. Will Georgians and other Americans stop flying on Delta Air Lines, an Atlanta-based company, which has been rather mute during this onslaught against democracy? One can image a real economic blow to an airline already reeling from the coronavirus pandemic. Saying that a company favors “fair” elections is insufficient when there is an effort underway to make it more difficult for African Americans to vote (e.g., eliminating early voting on Sundays, when many of the state’s predominantly Black churches conduct their get-out-the-vote initiatives).

It is easy to imagine corporate boycotts against other inert corporations and pressure on, for example, the film industry, now a mainstay of the Georgia economy, to cut off its operations. Tourism, already devastated by covid-19, will not bounce back if visitors decide to not spend their money in a state turning the clock back on voting rights.

The battle will certainly not end in Georgia. With similar efforts to suppress voting underway in a slew of Republican-controlled states such as Texas and Arizona, we are going to see the same backlash play out and similar demands on corporations to take a public stance. Lawsuits and economic boycotts likely will enact a toll on these states.

Republicans will not be dissuaded by the absence of evidence of any significant fraud in 2020. Georgia, where multiple audits confirmed the results, is the last place in which voting “security” needs to be tightened.

As Myrna Pérez of the Brennan Center for Justice explained on Monday, “It’s a terrible feedback loop, where the same politicians who were undermining our electoral system are now pushing for restrictive voting laws, based on the justification that people don’t trust that system. But voters lose faith and trust in the system when they see politicians manipulating it to keep themselves in power.”

Passage of restrictions in Georgia and other states, Democratic voting rights defenders insist, will only heighten pressure in Congress to enact federal protection for voting rights — even if it means carving an exception to the filibuster.

Read more:

Jennifer Rubin: Georgia must hold the line on democracy — again

Philip Bump: How new voting restrictions in Georgia could have affected the 2020 election

Greg Sargent: Why the GOP’s awful new voter suppression effort is so alarming

The Post’s View: Republicans’ war on democracy is ramping up