The campaign took root after the independent journalism site Popular Information reported top corporations in the state that have since 2018 given millions of dollars to Republican lawmakers supporting proposed legislation to restrict voting rights. AT&T donated $99,700; Aetna/CVS/Caremark gave $43,300; and even Lyft gave $6,000, the news site reported.
It listed Walmart, SunTrust/Truist, UnitedHealth, Publix, General Motors, Home Depot, UPS, Coca-Cola, Southern Company, Comcast, and Delta Air Lines as companies that have given more than $20,000 to GOP legislators backing restrictive voting bills. Others on the list include Pfizer, AllState, Anthem/BCBS Georgia, Anheuser-Busch, Verizon, Walgreens, T-Mobile, and Aflac.
Nsé Ufot, chief executive officer of The New Georgia Project to register voters in the state, told Popular Information Coca-Cola—which launched an ad campaign encouraging voter participation—and other companies need to take a stand. “Corporate brands leverage Georgia’s civil rights history to fatten their bottom dollar,” Ufot said. “It’s time to call the question: Where do you stand on this issue? Which side are you on? They don’t get to hide in the shadows.”
The Georgia General Assembly passed one of the bills, House Bill 531, on Monday. It threatens to add a voter ID requirement to the absentee voting process, limit the use of drop boxes, and force counties to choose between opening polls on Saturdays or Sundays, state Rep. Bee Nguyen told 11 Alive. “We know that forcing counties to choose between Saturday and Sunday voting is targeting Black voters, who have used ‘souls to the polls’ to cast their votes,” Nguyen said of the voting initiative purposefully timed for after church on Sundays. The bill also defines giving food or water to voters as a misdemeanor in some cases, 11 Alive reported.
“If we’re really not trying to suppress the vote, why are we even making giving water to someone an issue,” Democratic Rep. Patty Bentley asked in a WMAZ interview. She voted against the legislation poised for a Senate vote next week, WMAZ reported.
In addition to the limitations of the House bill, Senate Bill 241 tacks on banning no-excuse absentee voting, a legal right in Georgia since 2005 when David Shafer, chairman of the Georgia Republican Party, voted in support of the legislation. “Either Black Lives Matter, or they don’t. Which side are you on @CocaCola @Delta @UPS?” Rep. David Dreyer tweeted on Wednesday.
Their answers to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution were uninspired at best and insulting at worst. Delta didn’t acknowledge the accusations against the company at all. “Delta is more than 75,000 strong – and our shared values call on us to make our voices heard and be engaged members of our communities, of which voting is a vital part of that responsibility,” the business said in its statement to the AJC. “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.”
Coca-Cola had a similarly generic statement but described voting as a “foundational right.” “We support efforts by the Metro Atlanta Chamber and the Georgia Chamber of Commerce to help facilitate a balanced approach to the elections bills that have been introduced in the Georgia Legislature this session,” the company said in its statement. “The ultimate goal should be fair, secure elections where access to voting is broad-based and inclusive.”
UPS cited its “Drive the Vote” voting education campaign, a “non-partisan” effort endorsing “no specific candidate or party.” “UPS believes in the importance of the democratic process and supports facilitating the ability of all eligible voters to exercise their civic duty,” the company said in its statement. “We are committed to voter awareness and engagement.”
It’s unclear how any of the statements address the call from Black activists to divest support from legislators backing restrictive voting legislation. The campaign also calls for the companies to support proposed federal voting rights legislation including the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. The former, which the House passed Wednesday, would expand ballot access by creating automatic voter registration throughout the country, restore the voting rights of the formerly incarcerated, expand early voting, and modernize voting systems, Brown said on Twitter Thursday. The latter would restore the Voting Rights Act and update the formula used to decide which states require preclearance from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia to change any element related to voting in a protected jurisdiction. “As workers, citizens and consumers, we expect you to stand with us against anti-democratic and racist bills being considered in the Georgia legislature,” voting rights organizations said on its campaign flyer. “Our right to vote is at risk.”