Georgia companies reverse stance on voting laws after widespread backlash

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Joel C. Bautista | The Ticker

Gabriel Rivera

Several Atlanta-based corporations changed their stance on the controversial voting laws passed by the Georgia Legislature in the past week. Now, they publicly condemn the legislation disenfranchising the state’s Black communities after customers and activists nationwide denounced their lack of action.

Delta Air Lines Inc. and Coca-Cola Company became the subject of criticism as state and local activists quickly acknowledged the discrepancies between their vocal support for racial justice last summer, and their current silence on the discriminatory voting laws in Georgia.

“We are all frustrated with these companies that claim that they are standing with the Black community around racial justice and racial equality,” said LaTosha Brown, a co-founder of Black Voters Matter, according to The New York Times. “This shows that they lack a real commitment to racial equity. They are complicit in their silence.”

The legislation has been heavily criticized by Democrats nationwide and viewed as a Republican effort to nullify the impact of Black voters in Georgia, a traditionally red state that flipped in the last presidential election and elected two Democratic senators in January.

Absentee ballots will now have stricter ID requirements and third-party groups are now prohibited from providing food and water to voters waiting in line under the new legislation, according toThe New York Times.

Strict voting ID requirements have traditionally suppressed voting totals in communities of color, which also often have the longest lines since they are commonly densely populated areas. This new restriction on food and water distribution at polling places is another hurdle for voters of color to deal with.

President Joe Biden deemed the new voting law “Jim Crow in the 21st century” and politician and activist Stacy Abrams said it demonstrated the GOP’s preference for “suppression over participation” in a tweet the same day the legislation was passed.

Delta Air Lines originally refused to take a stance on the voting law and offered general remarks about the importance of voting rights, but CEO Ed Bastian clarified his stance after activists began to criticize the company and call for a boycott.

“After having time to now fully understand all that is in the bill, coupled with discussions with leaders and employees in the Black community, it’s evident that the bill includes provisions that will make it harder for many underrepresented voters, particularly Black voters, to exercise their constitutional right to elect their representatives,” Bastian said, according to NPR. “That is wrong.”

The President of Coca-Cola North America Operating UnitAlfredo Rivera also addressed calls nationwide to boycott the company’s products in a statement last week, assuring they “will continue to meet with a wide array of stakeholders inside and outside of Georgia to hear their views, work together, and advocate for greater voting access.”

“Voting in our country is a sacred right and duty, and we recognize we have a responsibility to protect it and promote it,” Rivera added.

Backlash against the voting laws and mixed messages from Delta and Coca-Cola has come from New York companies and executives as well.

Citi CFO Mark Mason said he was “appalled” by the voting laws and promised to join the fight to “ensure other states don’t follow this horrible example,” in a LinkedIn post last week.

“I see it as a disgrace that our country’s efforts to keep Black Americans from engaging fully in our Constitutional right to vote continue to this day.”

Mason also voiced his support for a recent letter signed by 72 fellow Black business leaders, which calls on U.S. corporations to use their public influence, wealth and lobbyists to fight against laws that disenfranchise voters of color, according to The New York Times.

One of the leaders of the initiative was Kenneth Chenualt, former CEO of American Express. Some other executives who backed the letter include Roger Ferguson Jr., CEO of TIAA, an insurance company headquartered in Manhattan, and Raymond McGuire, former Citigroup executive and current New York City mayoral candidate, according to The New York Times.

“This impacts all Americans, but we also need to acknowledge the history of voting rights for African Americans,” Chenault said, according to The Hill.

“And as African American executives in corporate America, what we were saying is we want corporate America to understand that, and we want them to work with us,” he added.