Voting law backlash grows as Georgia General Assembly wraps session

Corporate backlash against Georgia’s restrictive new voting laws continues to mount with Coca-Cola, Delta Air Lines, Microsoft, and media mogul Tyler Perry speaking out and encouraging action.

The law, signed by Gov. Brian Kemp on March 25, imposes new voter identification requirements for absentee ballots, empowers state officials to take over local elections boards, limits the use of ballot drop boxes, allows for unlimited challenges to a voter’s qualifications, cuts the runoff election period from nine to four weeks, shortens the time voters have to request an absentee ballot, and even criminalizes giving food and water to voters waiting in line at polling places.

Court challenges have already been filed by civil rights organizations in attempts to block the law, while critics are wondering why Georgia’s corporations didn’t speak up before the bill was passed and signed by Kemp.

In a memo to employees, Delta CEO Ed Bastian called the voting law “unacceptable” and “based on a lie” of widespread fraud in last November’s election, according to a report in the AJC.

Coca-Cola’s CEO James Quincey also called the legislation unacceptable and urged state lawmakers to reconsider. “It’s a step backwards and it does not promote principles we have stood for in Georgia around broad access to voting, around voter convenience, about ensuring election integrity,” Quincey told NBC News on March 30.

Microsoft President Brad Smith said on the company blog that the tech giant, which will invest billions in a new campus and data centers in the state, opposed the measure all along.

Smith wrote: “We are concerned by the law’s impact on communities of color, on every voter, and on our employees and their families. We share the views of other corporate leaders that it’s not only right but essential for the business community to stand together in opposition to the harmful provisions and other similar legislation that may be considered elsewhere.”

Tyler Perry, who operates one of the largest film studios in the state, said in a statement this week that the law was “unconstitutional” and urged the Department of Justice to investigate.

“As a Georgia resident and business owner I’ve been here a few times with the anti-abortion bill and the LGBTQ discrimination bill,” Perry said in the statement. “They all sent a shockwave through Georgia and the nation but none of them managed to succeed. I’m resting my hope in the DOJ taking a hard look at this unconstitutional voter suppression law that harkens to the Jim Crow era.”

Kemp defended the new law in an appearance on multiple news shows on Wednesday. “These business owners don’t live here and don’t know what our laws are,” Kemp said on CNBC. “Quite honestly, our laws aren’t as restrictive as the states where a lot of these businesses are residing. Perhaps they should focus on their own states.”

On WABE, Kemp had this to say about the social media demand for boycotts of companies doing business in Georgia: “It’s unfortunate. And it’s not fair to be boycotting businesses because of a so-called voter suppression bill that is not in Georgia. This is all part of an agenda to drive a narrative and to pad people’s pocketbooks.”

The voting law was the most high profile issue of the General Assembly’s 2021 session, which wrapped up on March 31, but here’s a few other laws that passed:

* The 2022 state budget – coming in at $27.2 billion – with the notable addition of $6 million for improvements to the Bankhead MARTA rail station, which will be near the new Microsoft campus on the Westside.

* The repeal of a Civil War-era citizen’s arrest law intended for the capture of runaway slaves. The law was used in the defense of three white suspects who shot and killed Ahmaud Arbery. While ending the citizen’s arrest law in most cases, it will still be allowed for employees at businesses, security officers, private investigators, weigh station inspectors, and law enforcement officers outside their jurisdictions.

* A bill that prevents local governments from reducing police budgets by more than five percent in response to the “defund the police” movement.

* If Georgia lawmakers had their way, daylight savings time would be permanent. A bill was passed calling for DST to become permanent, but only the U.S. Congress can make that change. Georgia joins 11 other states who have passed similar bills.