Corporate giants are beginning to publicly condemn a new Georgia law that suppresses voting rights after they faced backlash from voters and activists threatening boycotts over their silence.

CEOs at major companies Coca-Cola and Delta Air Lines, which are both headquartered in Georgia, issued statements on Wednesday denouncing the sweeping legislation, which severely limits voting access to Black and brown Georgians after increased turnout in the state led to Democratic victories in the 2020 election.

“This legislation is wrong and needs to be remediated,” Coca-Cola CEO James Quincey told CNBC, adding that the law is “a step backwards.” He said that the company will advocate “in both private and even more clearly in public.”

Here's what business leaders are saying. ⚡️ “Business community speaks out against Georgia's new voting law”https://t.co/pIUyyvukSB

— CNBC (@CNBC) March 31, 2021

Delta CEO Ed Bastian told employees in a memo Wednesday that the new state law “does not match” the company’s values, and that “the entire rationale for this bill was based on a lie: that there was widespread voter fraud in Georgia in the 2020 elections.” Delta did, however, support at least one provision in the law.

“After having time to now fully understand all that is in the bill, 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,” Bastian said. “That is wrong.”

Neither executive detailed how, exactly, their companies would combat voter suppression in Georgia and nationwide, but said they planned to monitor the law’s impact in the coming months.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R), who has made it a point in his career to suppress votes that don’t serve his party, signed the bill on March 25, making it harder for Black Georgians to vote. Republicans said the bill would help restore trust in U.S. elections. That trust, however, is something President Donald Trump and his Republican allies dangerously eroded by making unfounded claims of voter fraud following Joe Biden’s presidential victory.

Georgia’s law imposes voter ID requirements on those who vote by mail, threatening the 200,000 Georgia voters who don’t have a driver’s license or state identification number. It also limits drop box usage for absentee ballots; criminalizes voting groups from giving people in line to vote food and water; and shortens the period of time between general elections and runoff races.

Georgia's H.B. 531 adds controversial voting restrictions to the state's elections, including limiting ballot drop boxes, reqMegan Varner/Getty Images Georgia’s H.B. 531 adds controversial voting restrictions to the state’s elections, including limiting ballot drop boxes, requiring IDs for absentee voting and curtailing weekend early voting days. 

Democrats, including Biden, have said the Georgia law is a direct attack on the Constitution and is reminiscent of Jim Crow-era voter suppression laws.

Newly elected Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.), who has long criticized Georgia Republicans’ voter suppression efforts, blasted corporations on Sunday for “falling over themselves every year around the time of the [Martin Luther] King holiday,” adding, “I think that the way to celebrate Dr. King is to stand up for what he represented: voting rights.”

Rep. Nikema Williams (D-Ga.), chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Georgia, applauded the companies that did speak out against the law and said it is “imperative” for corporations, especially those based in the state, to denounce “any policy that infringes on the rights of citizens in this state.”

“Thankfully, Democrats already have two strong voting rights bills ready for debate: HR 1, the For the People Act, and HR 4, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act,” Williams said in a statement. “We look forward to engaging with Georgia companies like Coca-Cola and Delta as real partners on these critical issues, which affects the civil rights of Georgians and all Americans.”

Demonstrators hold a sit-in inside of the Georgia Capitol building to oppose H.B. 531 on March 8, 2021. Megan Varner/Getty Images Demonstrators hold a sit-in inside of the Georgia Capitol building to oppose H.B. 531 on March 8, 2021.

Though some companies are now coming out against the law, activists, consumers and Black leaders had been calling on business executives to voice their objections before the legislation passed. After Coca-Cola and Delta continued to give too-measured statements in face of the voter suppression efforts, consumers ― such as the AME Sixth Episcopal District of Georgia, which includes more than 500 Black churches in the state ― called for a statewide boycott of their products.

More than 70 prominent Black business executives signed a letter addressed to corporate America saying companies must either choose to support more people voting or choose to believe in voter suppression. More than 40 states are currently considering election changes similar to Georgia’s, according to former American Express CEO Ken Chenault, who told “CBS This Morning” that “the reality is corporations have been silent on this issue.”

The New Georgia Project Action Fund, a civil rights nonprofit that has joined the Georgia NAACP and other voting rights organizations in suing the state over the law, put the companies on notice with a billboard campaign calling on Georgia-based corporations to publicly speak out against the legislation. On Wednesday, CEO Nsé Ufot noted that Delta had originally touted the bill while Black and brown voters were demanding that the company withdraw its support.

“Delta claimed its leaders engaged with lawmakers drafting these bills for weeks, ensuring that the company’s voice was well-represented in the process. Now, you claim to fully understand the legislation and the damage it will do after conversations with leaders in the Black and Brown community,” Ufot said in a statement.

“This is where the problem lies. Conversations with Black and Brown leaders must happen at all stages and all areas of decision-making, not after the damage is done,” she continued. “Here’s the lesson: listen to Black and Brown people. Listen to young voters. Listen to new voters. We are the future, and our voices matter.”

Ufot said that Delta must “use your power and influence” to tell Congress to pass H.R. 1 and H.R. 4 and stop anti-voting bills like Georgia’s from becoming law in states like Arizona, Texas, Florida and Michigan, where voting rights are currently under attack.

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