Corporate accountability campaign in Georgia gains momentum

Last Wednesday, Popular Information published a report documenting the corporate donors backing the legislators sponsoring two bills to dramatically restrict voting in Georgia. Soon thereafter, a coalition of civil rights groups — including the Georgia NAACP, the New Georgia Project, and Black Voters Matter — used the information as the basis for a campaign demanding that companies speak out against the legislation. The coalition placed advertisements in Georgia newspapers and projected the names of the corporate donors on the façade of a hotel across the street from the site of the NBA All-Star Game. 

The campaign, which is targeting Coca-Cola, Delta, UPS, Home Depot, and others, is starting to pick up steam. On Tuesday night, Stacey Abrams talked about the importance of corporations publicly opposing voter suppression legislation in Georgia and around the country. Abrams spoke on a call organized by her organization, Fair Fight, and More Than A Vote, a voting rights organization founded by LeBron James. 

[T]here should be no silence from the business community when anyone in power is trying to strip away the right to vote from the people… 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. I know that sounds a bit overblown, but I can’t see it any other way.

Abrams' voice is particularly significant because her work organizing voters is credited for helping Democrats win in Georgia, secure the presidency and control the Senate. She is expected to run for Governor of Georgia in 2022. 

While many corporations have issued vague statements in support of voting rights, they have remained conspicuously quiet about specific proposals to restrict voting that are moving through the legislature. That appears to be slowly starting to change. 

This week, following the passage of a bill by the Georgia Senate that would end no-excuse absentee voting for anyone under 65, the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce issued a statement in opposition:

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.

Notably, many of the companies that have backed the donors of Georgia's voter suppression legislation are affiliated with the Metro Atlanta Chamber. Coca-Cola, Delta, UPS, and Home Depot are all participants in the Metro Atlanta Chamber's "Action for Racial Equality" project. 

While a statement by the Metro Atlanta Chamber is not the same as a statement from the companies themselves, it's a start. 

A filibuster fix?

The flood of voter suppression legislation in Georgia, Arizona, and dozens of other states is a symptom of a larger problem. There is currently very little protection for voting rights at the federal level. In the 2013 case of Shelby County v. Holder, the Supreme Court "struck down the heart of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by a 5-to-4 vote, freeing nine states, mostly in the South, to change their election laws without advance federal approval." Earlier this month, the Supreme Court considered a challenge to another part of the Voting Rights Act that could weaken the law even further

It's not a certainty that states like Georgia or Arizona will approve voter suppression legislation this year. But until there are more robust protections at the federal level, it's just a matter of time. 

Civil rights icon John Lewis, who was nearly beaten to death protesting for voting rights, died last year. But the late Congressman authored the voting rights provisions of the For the People Act, which was passed by the House earlier this month. 

Under that legislation, "states would be required to automatically register eligible voters, hold at least 15 consecutive days of early voting for federal elections and provide drop boxes for absentee ballots." It would also "make it far easier to vote by mail and far harder to purge voters from the rolls." The House plans a separate vote on another piece of legislation authored by Lewis, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would restore the pre-clearance provisions struck down by the Supreme Court. 

Both bills, however, face an uphill battle in the Senate. Although Democrats control the chamber, most legislation still requires 60 votes to advance. It would be difficult to find one Senate Republican, much less 10, to protect voting rights at the federal level.  

The simplest solution would be just to scrap the Senate's legislative filibuster entirely, which would only require 51 votes. But two Democratic Senators, Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ)  are adamantly opposed to eliminating the filibuster. Without Manchin and Sinema, the filibuster isn't going anywhere for at least the next two years. 

But there are hints that Manchin and Sinema could support modifications to the filibuster rules that might make passage of the voting rights legislation more attainable. 

"The filibuster should be painful,” Manchin said during an appearance on Fox News Sunday. “We’ve made it more comfortable over the years, not intentionally; maybe it just evolved into that. Maybe it has to be more painful. Maybe you have to stand there." Requiring a "talking" filibuster would significantly weaken its power to obstruct legislation. People can talk for a long time but, eventually, they'll need to stop. And once they do, legislation like the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act could get an up-or-down vote. There are other tweaks that could have a similar impact. For example, instead of requiring 60 votes to break a filibuster, you could require a three-fifths majority of Senators that are present. 

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said on Monday that Biden's "preference is to not make changes to the filibuster rules." That leaves the door open to changes in the filibuster, especially if Republicans continue to obstruct action on voting rights.