The optics underscored the reality. Surrounded by all White men, with a painting of a Georgia plantation visible in the background, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp last week signed a sweeping elections law that critics say harkens back to “Jim Crow-era” voter suppression.
Georgia state Rep. Park Cannon knocked on Gov. Kemp’s door to bear witness to the bill’s signing. Video shows her being handcuffed and arrested after she persisted to knock on the door after state troopers asked her to stop. She was subsequently charged with two felonies. A state trooper has since claimed that she stomped on his foot, which she has denied.
The arrest and law itself have spurred outrage and protests in Georgia and refocused attention on voter suppression efforts across the nation. There are currently 47 other states where Republican lawmakers have introduced bills that would make it harder to vote.
Among the most controversial measures in Georgia’s 95-page Election Integrity Act of 2021 are reducing the number of drop boxes; making it a crime to offer water to voters waiting in line; adding ID requirements to absentee ballots; shortening runoffs in the state; and enabling state officials to take over local elections boards.
Outcry and pressure from activists spurs action
On Wednesday, a coalition of Black business executives, including Merck CEO Ken Frazier and Ken Chenault, former American Express CEO, signed a letter demanding corporate leaders take a stand against the new law and voter suppression efforts elsewhere. “Corporations have to stand up,” said Chenault. “There is no middle ground,” said in an interview with CNBC.
Related stories: How new voters, Black women transformed Georgia’s politics
After putting out mild initial statements, Atlanta-based companies, Delta Airlines and Coca-Cola responded to pressure to come out more forcefully against the law. On Wednesday, the two companies, along with JPMorgan, issued strong condemnations of Georgia law S.B. 202.
“After having time to now fully understand all that is in the bill,” said Delta CEO Ed Bastian, “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. That is wrong.”
In a memo to employees, Bastian called the law “unacceptable” and “based on a lie”—referencing former Pres. Trump’s “Big Lie” about widespread voter fraud that caused him to lose the election to President Joe Biden.
“This legislation is wrong and needs to be remedied,” Cocoa Cola CEO James Quincey said on CNBC. “We will continue to advocate for it, both in private and now even more clearly in public.”
Several civil rights groups, including the Southern Poverty Law Center and NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., have filed a federal lawsuit against Georgia’s law, charging that it makes it much harder for all Georgians to vote, particularly voters of color, new citizens, and religious communities.
Perhaps the biggest rebuke came on Friday when the Major League Baseball (MLB) announced that it is pulling the All-Star game from Atlanta because of the state’s elections law. The game is set for July 13 and MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said the league is still finalizing details about a new location for the game.
“Over the last week, we have engaged in thoughtful conversations with Clubs, former and current players, the Players Association, and The Players Alliance, among others, to listen to their views,” Manfred said in a released statement. “I have decided that the best way to demonstrate our values as a sport is by relocating this year’s All-Star Game and MLB Draft.” The MLB draft is a new addition to All-Star Game festivities this year.
“Major League Baseball fundamentally supports voting rights for all Americans and opposes restrictions to the ballot box,” Manfred continued. “In 2020, MLB became the first professional sports league to join the non-partisan Civic Alliance to help build a future in which everyone participates in shaping the United States. We proudly used our platform to encourage baseball fans and communities throughout our country to perform their civic duty and actively participate in the voting process. Fair access to voting continues to have our game’s unwavering support.”
President Joe Biden sounded off against the law in a statement last week, calling it “Jim Crow in the 21st Century” and implored Congress to pass voting rights legislation.
Sen. Reverend Raphael Warnock (D-GA) called the law “anti-democratic” and “un-American” at a recent press conference.
“I think they don’t like the [election] outcome, so rather than change their message, they’re trying to change the rules,” he said. Warnock, along with Sen. Jon Ossoff (D-GA), surprised political pundits by winning Georgia runoff elections to give the Democrats the slight majority in the Senate. Democratic President Joe Biden also won Georgia, which used to be a reliably red state.
“When I think about the work that we’ve been able to do the last few weeks,” Warnock continued, “passing the American Rescue Plan, that would not happen if the people of Georgia had not stood up in the ways that they did with a historic turnout in the election. We have to do everything we can, and I’m gonna do everything I can to pass the For the People Act and also the John Lewis Voting Rights Act.”
He continued, “We counted the votes not once, not twice, but three times. So, what’s the purpose of all this? They don’t like the outcome, so this is democracy in reverse, where politicians have decided that instead of voters picking their representatives, representatives have a right to cherry-pick their voters. Our democracy is in a 911 emergency.”
Sen. Warnock is Rep. Cannon’s pastor and has counseled her since her release from jail. “I’ve got news for the state of Georgia and for those who are trying to take away voices—we’re going to keep on, in various ways, knocking on that door.
“That wasn’t just Rep. Cannon knocking on the door. The people are knocking on the door saying that this democracy belongs to us; it doesn’t belong to the politicians,” he said, adding, “In this moment, we’re going to stand up for the sacred American right—one person, one vote.”