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Voting activists in Georgia are pressuring massive firms to oppose election restrictions supported by the GOP

Civil rights and activist groups are putting pressure on large Georgian corporations like Coca-Cola and Delta Airlines to oppose the sweeping voting restrictions proposed by Republican lawmakers.

"We have the power of organized people. They have the power of organized money. And between us and them we could put pressure on these lawmakers or, in the worst case, the governor to kill those bills," said Cliff Albright, co-founder of Black Voters Matter told CNBC.

Groups like Black Voters Matter, the New Georgia Project Action Fund and the Georgia NAACP launched the next phase of their campaign in local press and social media on Friday, asking supporters to reach out directly to CEOs, presidents and major corporate headquarters based in Georgia. They are urging them to speak out publicly against the proposed voting restrictions and stop making monetary contributions to the Republican lawmakers who sponsor the bills.

The voting restriction bills come from the historic turnout of Georgian voters – especially black and colored voters – during the runoff elections in November and January, which saw Republicans lose the presidential and Senate races for the first time in decades.

"It is very, very disappointing that, with the rise of civic engagement across the state, legislators would try to make it more difficult for Georgian citizens to participate in the election of their elected officials," said Andrea Young, Executive Director of the Georgian Chapter of American Civil Liberties Union said in an interview.

Republican lawmakers passed a bill in the state Senate in March to end unexcused postal voting and in the House of Representatives to limit early weekend voting, increase postal ID requirements, and restrict ballot boxes: SB 241 and HB 531. These proposed restrictions would disproportionately harm black voters, according to an analysis by the Brennan Center for Justice.

Stakeholders are reaching out to Georgia's powerful business community because they say that trying to influence GOP lawmakers alone will have little effect.

"These companies employ hundreds of thousands of Georgia voters who will be directly affected by these laws," Nse Ufot, CEO of the New Georgia Project, told CNBC. "Voter suppression is not good for business."

The coalition focuses on six of the largest companies in Georgia – Aflac, Coca-Cola, Delta Airlines, Home Depot, Southern Company, and UPS – with full-page ads, demonstrations, and text banks. An investigation by Popular Information on March 3 found that the six companies had donated $ 190,800 to co-sponsors of HB 531 and SB 241 since 2018.

The work of the activists seems to be seeing some results. Business boosters have been opposed to certain provisions of the proposed voter restrictions since proponents started their print campaign.

The Georgia Chamber of Commerce previously affirmed the importance of voting without opposing any particular piece of legislation. In a new statement to CNBC, the Georgian Chamber said it had "expressed concern and opposition to provisions in HB 531 and SB 241 that limit or reduce voter access" and "continued to work bipartisan with General Assembly leaders "on bills that would affect voting rights in our state. "

Dave Williams, SVP for Public Order for the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, said in a statement Monday, "Removing the non-excusing absentee ballot does little to make the process safer and carries a great risk to participation."

The Greater Black Chamber of Commerce in Georgia told CNBC in a statement: "As for HB 531 and SB 241, lawmakers should not rely on the" urgency "to sign these bills to step back to be open to other views and to do so. " What is & # 39; RIGHT & # 39 ;? The Black Business and Community Leaders have expressed that they are & # 39; OPPOSED & # 39; are. And GGBCC represents them. "

Most companies have not participated in the voting rights debate, but offer broad points of view on votes and elections. All six companies are members of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, and all but Aflac are members of the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce.

Aflac, Coca-Cola, Delta, Home Depot and UPS reiterated their support for fair and safe elections and for an equal participation of voters in statements made to CNBC. The Southern Company did not respond to CNBC's request for comment.

Georgia companies have historically spoken out strongly against laws, such as a "Freedom of Religion" law in 2016 that would have allowed discrimination against same-sex couples. They have also largely remained silent on other debates, such as a "heartbeat" anti-abortion law in 2019 that was declared unconstitutional in 2020.

Georgian conservative lawmakers have historically penalized Georgian companies for certain political moves. Republican lawmakers killed a huge airline tax break after Delta granted discounts to members of the National Rifle Association.

CNBC has sought comments from the Georgia Senate and House Republicans on its corporate responsibility campaigns.

Voting rights activists are not impressed with the statements companies have made so far about the voting rights debate.

"We need a complete rejection of these bills," said Ufot of the New Georgia Project. "What is your endorsement of the importance of democracy when you witness an attack on democracy and keep silent about it?"

Jerry Gonzalez, executive director of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials, compared the bills to the infamous electoral restrictions that kept people of color from voting in the south before the civil rights movement introduced the voting law in the 1960s.

"We spoke to business partners and chambers of commerce to get them to step up," Gonzalez told CNBC. "Many of them have been very vocal on issues of racial justice. Well, this is a Jim Crow attack on voting rights that is going on."

Former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams said business leaders should take a clear stance on proposed election restrictions in Georgia and other states when calling the voting groups she founded, Fair Fight Action and More Than A Vote, founded by the NBA superstar LeBron James, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported.

"There should be no silence in the business world when someone in power is trying to disenfranchise the people," Abrams said on the conference call. "There should be a hue and a scream."

Bernice King, the daughter of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., said Wednesday that she wrote a letter calling on CEOs of Georgia-based companies to oppose the bills and use their influence on Georgia state lawmakers to block restrictive laws.

"It won't go on as usual," said Albright of Black Voters Matter. "If you can't get involved in the business of fighting for democracy, we have to get involved in your business."

Read the following statements from companies and groups of companies:

Aflac

The right to vote in national, state and local elections is the cornerstone of democracy. We must unite to ensure an accessible and safe voting, while ensuring the integrity and transparency of the elections. As this important issue is being debated in Georgia and in state houses across the country, we expect that fairness and integrity will be the constant basis of discussion.

Coke

Voting is a fundamental right in America, and we will continue to work to improve voting rights and access in Georgia and across the country. We support the efforts of the Metro Atlanta Chamber and Georgia Chamber of Commerce to facilitate a balanced approach to the electoral laws introduced in the Georgia Legislature at this session. The ultimate goal should be fair and safe elections, where access to voting is broad and inclusive.

delta

Delta is more than 75,000 strong – and our shared values ​​challenge us to make our voices heard and to be committed members of our communities, of which voting is an integral part of that responsibility. Ensuring an electoral system that promotes broad turnout, equal access to elections, and fair, safe electoral processes is vital to voter confidence and creates an environment in which all votes are counted.

Home Depot

We believe that all elections should be accessible, fair, and safe, and support widespread turnout. We will continue to work to ensure that our employees, both in Georgia and across the country, have the information and resources to vote.

UPS

UPS believes in the importance of the democratic process and supports facilitating the ability of all eligible voters to exercise their civic duty. We are committed to electoral awareness and engagement. In the last election, UPS ran an awareness campaign for our employees called "Drive the Vote" to encourage employees to vote. The Drive the Vote campaign was impartial and did not endorse any particular candidate or party. Like other companies in the community, we work with the Metro Atlanta Chamber and Georgia Chamber to ensure fair access to polls and the integrity of the electoral process across the state.

Dave Williams, SVP Public Policy of the Metro Atlanta Chamber:

Widespread voter turnout, equal access to elections, and fair, secure electoral processes are critical to voter confidence and contribute to a business environment that fosters growth and vitality. We continue to work closely with members of the Georgia General Assembly to provide a balanced approach to the electoral laws introduced at that meeting. We are carefully examining what impact the bills would have on fair access to elections and the integrity of the elections in our state.

In assessing specific electoral laws, we will continue to rely on our core values ​​related to elections:

We believe that the electoral process in Georgia should be fair, secure, accurate and equally accessible to all eligible voters in Georgia.

We believe that our state and our local governments should do everything possible to maximize turnout and minimize unnecessary barriers to our elections while working to ensure electoral integrity.

We are committed to educating voters and promoting broad engagement in the electoral process. Our previous measures have shown this commitment. Our future actions will do the same.

We continue to advocate balanced legislation that makes voting more accessible and safer. Removing the non-excusing absentee voting does little to make the process more secure and carries a great risk to participation.

Georgia Chamber of Commerce

The Georgian Chamber continues to work bipartisan with the leaders of the General Assembly on bills that would affect voting rights in our state. We have expressed concerns and opposition to provisions in both HB 531 and SB 241 that limit or restrict voter access. As these two collective bills go through the legislative process, we will continue to work to ensure both accessibility and security within our voting system.

Georgia Greater Black Chamber of Commerce

GGBCC affirmed: "All eligible voters should be able to vote in Georgia." As for HB 531 and SB 241, lawmakers shouldn't rely on "urgency" to sign these bills, take a step back, be open to other views and do what is "RIGHT". The Black Business and Community Leaders have expressed that they are "OPPOSITE". And GGBCC represents them.

"Our organization plays a very important role in Georgia's economic growth," said Melinda Sylvester, CEO of GGBCC. "Accordingly, we believe that it is our civic duty to stand with all voters in our great state. In doing so, we show our collective strength to ensure that the efforts of our bridge-building initiative continue to be building blocks for its continuation and future can succeed for all Georgians. "The organization also encourages all GGBCC, business owners and emerging business owners to get involved and stay in touch with their respective lawmakers.

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