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Corporations Can't Have It Both Ways on Voting Rights

People wait in line to vote early at the State Farm Arena on Monday, Oct. 12, 2020, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

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People wait in line to vote early at the State Farm Arena on Monday, Oct. 12, 2020, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Some of the country’s biggest corporations are getting away with a stunning level of deception in Georgia. 

Companies like Coca-Cola, Delta, UPS, and AT&T have made a public show of supporting voting rights, and the rights of Black voters in particular. With splashy ads and Black History Month campaigns, they’ve tried to curry favor with customers by trading on the history of the Civil Rights Movement and portraying themselves as allies of its modern-day equivalent. 

But behind the scenes, these same corporations have been donating millions of dollars to the politicians who continue to spout racist lies about the 2020 election and who are working feverishly, right now, to roll voting laws back to the Jim Crow era and silence the voices of thousands of Georgia’s voters. 

These companies cannot have it both ways. It’s time for them to take a stand. They either support the freedom to vote or they do not. We will no longer accept empty rhetoric

In Georgia and across the country, voting laws have been the target of Republican politicians eager to reduce the political power of the Black community. They were held in check by the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which gave the federal government power to prevent many racially-motivated changes to voting laws from taking effect. Attacks on Black voter power increased rapidly after the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act several years ago. But now these attacks have reached a whole new level. 

The 2020 election and 2021 Senate runoff saw Georgia make history, delivering Democrats victories in races for president and two senate seats. Flipping Georgia blue was the result of years of organizing to help voters embrace a new vision for a Georgia that’s diverse, connected, and fired up to make change. We accomplished this in the face of both a pandemic and aggressive voter-suppression campaigns.

But now we’re experiencing extraordinary pushback. Conservative politicians have advanced over 50 separate bills, with two dangerous “omnibus” bills, one in the state general assembly and one in the senate, that would suppress the freedom to vote for those who make up the new multiracial, multi-ethnic Georgia.

Among other things, the bills limit the use of drop boxes to return ballots, require photo ID to return absentee ballots, curtail early voting on weekends (when many Black churches conduct “Souls to the Polls” events), and eliminate no excuse mail-in voting. 

Early voting was something that Coca-Cola, through its Sprite brand, championed before November. The company’s “#CreateYourFuture” ads proclaimed that “Sprite is committed to supporting young Black creators & artists and the reasons why they vote,” and used graffiti-style script to encourage viewers to “Vote Early” and “Vote By Mail.” 

But as journalists Judd Legum and Tesnim Zekeria exposed in their piece for Popular Information, Coca-Cola’s real loyalties lie with the enemies of early voting. Their research showed the company “has donated $34,750 to the sponsors of both pieces of legislation to restrict voting.” Nor do they seem to regret it. Asked about the legislation itself, Coca-Cola refused to take a stand, telling Legum and Zekeria “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.”

Coca-Cola is hardly alone. 

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has already given its membership the greenlight to donate to federal office holders who voted to overturn the results of the election on January 6. And this is consistent with longstanding patterns. According to the report, since 2018, some of the top companies we buy from every day have donated $7.4 million to the sponsors of harmful legislation, despite publicly professing their support for voting rights. These brands include Delta Airlines, UPS,Home Depot, General Motors, Walmart, Allstate, and AT&T leading the pack with almost $100k in donations.

Many of these companies said they’d pause political donations after the January 6 riot in the U.S. Capitol. But inaction is not enough. If these companies care about their customers and their Georgia employees, they need to condemn this legislation. They need to state clearly and unequivocally that they understand these measures for what they are—a blatant attempt to silence our community and roll back the clock on the progress we’ve made. We call on all companies involved to permanently stop funding these dangerous lawmakers and instead do everything in their power to help us pass laws that expand voting access for years to come

To all our friends in the corporate world, we are watching you. We will know whether you’re putting your money where your mouth is. We are ready to welcome and celebrate you as allies, or to expose you for prioritizing endless profit over the lives of our communities.

Nsé Ufot is the CEO of New Georgia Project Action Fund.