Voter suppression, meet your match: corporate responsibility.
Eight days after Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed a controversial election reform bill into law, Major League Baseball announced plans to relocate the All-Star Game and MLB draft from Atlanta to a new host city, citing Senate Bill 202’s voting restrictions.
Georgia-based Coca-Cola and Delta Air Lines sharply criticized the law, and a group of pastors is urging people to boycott Coke, Delta and Home Depot to leverage the companies’ political influence. More consequences are sure to follow.
“Georgia: welcome to what North Carolina experienced in 2016,” Catawba College political science professor Michael Bitzer wrote in a Friday tweet.
Bitzer was referring to the North Carolina Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act, better known as House Bill 2, a transgender bathroom ban that required people to use the restrooms, locker rooms and shower facilities that match the sex recorded on their birth certificates.
Though it was all bark and no bite, lacking enforcement provisions and criminal penalties, the law sparked a ruinous economic boycott.
Facing the threat of lucrative college basketball championship games moved to other states, Republican legislative leaders and Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper reached a compromise to repeal most of the law in March 2017.
Critics say Georgia’s elections law has something in common with North Carolina’s bathroom bill: Both target historically marginalized minorities. The NAACP, which is among a half-dozen organizations suing the state under the Voting Rights Act, says the legislation is intended to disenfranchise Black voters.
Titled the Election Integrity Act, Senate Bill 202 is a 98-page grab bag. Not every provision is problematic; some, such as an expansion of early voting opportunities, are reforms progressives might cheer in a stand-alone bill. But restrictions including a widely unpopular ban on “line warming” are stoking nationwide outrage.
Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger has long objected to volunteers handing out snacks and beverages to voters waiting in line outside polling places. In a December press release, he described the practice as “a loophole to conduct political activity in violation of state law.”
The bill closes that supposed loophole by equating refreshments to candidate literature, which can’t be distributed to voters even if lines exceed the 150-foot electioneering boundary around each polling place.
States vary widely in how they regulate campaigning at the polls. A 1992 Supreme Court ruling, Burson v. Freeman, upheld bans on pressing the flesh and passing out literature — an example of narrow “time, place and manner” restrictions on speech that the First Amendment otherwise protects.
While brochures are designed to influence voters, water bottles and snacks are meant only to keep them comfortable. Walter Shaub, who led the U.S. Office of Government Ethics during the Obama and Trump administrations, noted that voting in some minority precincts can be an endurance test.
“But we know who these politicians force to stand in line all day long,” Shaub wrote in a Twitter post. “I’ve never once stood in line for even five minutes where I get to vote. This racism is thorough.”
Although Senate Bill 202 allows voters to receive “self-service water from an unattended receptacle,” the heavy-handed ban on refreshments has dominated news coverage, overshadowing other parts of the law. It strikes people as mean-spirited and petty.
Justifying it as a hedge against subtle influence-peddling or soft bribery simply doesn’t pass the smell test in a state that allows candidates and officeholders to accept gifts worth $100 or less without reporting them as campaign contributions.
Legislators who dine on lobbyists’ dime and consider themselves incorruptible but think we ordinary voters can be bought off for (literal) peanuts show profound disrespect to the people they represent.
In the one year House Bill 2 remained on the books, boycotts over North Carolina’s bathroom bill cost the state an estimated $450 million to $630 million and at least 1,400 jobs, according to PolitiFact.
Georgia can expect equal or greater losses from its election law. Moderating the measure by repealing provisions like the “line-warming” ban could stop the bleeding. Will Georgia Republicans learn from North Carolina, or do they consider Election Day snacks a hill worth dying on?
Corey Friedman is an opinion journalist who explores solutions to political conflicts from an independent perspective.