Delta and Coca-Cola Reverse Course on Georgia Voting Law, Stating ‘Crystal Clear’ Opposition
Prominent Black executives had called on companies to publicly oppose a wave of similarly restrictive voting bills that Republicans are advancing in almost every state.,
Companies that remained silent last week as Georgia Republicans rushed to pass a law to restrict voting access reversed course on Wednesday in the face of mounting outrage from activists, customers and a coalition of powerful Black executives.
Delta Air Lines, Georgia’s largest employer, had made only general statements in support of voting rights last week and had declined to take a position on the legislation. That muted response drew fierce criticism, as well as protests at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and calls for a boycott.
But on Wednesday, Ed Bastian, Delta’s chief executive, made a stark reversal. “I need to make it crystal clear that the final bill is unacceptable and does not match Delta’s values,” he wrote in an internal memo that was reviewed by The New York Times.
Coca-Cola, another of Georgia’s largest companies, which had also declined to take a position on the legislation before it passed, made a similarly worded statement.
“I want to be crystal clear,” said James Quincey, Coca-Cola’s chief executive. “The Coca-Cola Company does not support this legislation, as it makes it harder for people to vote, not easier.”
Less than a day before the abrupt reversals, a group of prominent Black executives called on companies to publicly oppose a wave of similarly restrictive voting bills that Republicans are advancing in almost every state.
But the statements won’t change the outcome in Georgia, where the new law introduced stricter voter identification requirements for absentee balloting, limited drop boxes in predominantly Black neighborhoods and expanded the legislature’s power over elections.
“It is regrettable that the sense of urgency came after the legislation was passed and signed into law,” said Darren Walker, the president of the Ford Foundation and a board member at Ralph Lauren, Pepsi and Square.
Mr. Bastian decided to write the memo and revise the company’s position on Tuesday night after speaking with Kenneth Chenault, a former chief executive of American Express who helped organize the statement by the Black executives, according to three people familiar with the conversation.
In the memo, Mr. Bastian said it was only after the law was passed that he truly understood the degree to which it would impose restrictions on Black voters.
“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,” he said. “That is wrong.”
Mr. Bastian went further, saying the new law was based on false pretenses.
“The entire rationale for this bill was based on a lie: that there was widespread voter fraud in Georgia in the 2020 elections,” he said. “This is simply not true. Unfortunately, that excuse is being used in states across the nation that are attempting to pass similar legislation to restrict voting rights.”
Several other companies also weighed in on the issue on Wednesday.
Larry Fink, the chief executive of BlackRock, issued a statement on LinkedIn saying the company was concerned about the wave of new restrictive voting laws. “BlackRock is concerned about efforts that could limit access to the ballot for anyone,” Mr. Fink said. “Voting should be easy and accessible for ALL eligible voters.”
Mark Mason, the chief financial officer of Citi, in a post on LinkedIn, called out the Georgia law as discriminatory.
“I am appalled by the recent voter suppression laws passed in the state of Georgia,” said Mr. Mason, who is Black. “I see it as a disgrace that our country’s efforts to keep Black Americans from engaging fully in our Constitutional right to vote continue to this day.”
Chuck Robbins, who is the chief executive of Cisco and grew up in Georgia, said on Twitter that “voting is a fundamental right in our democracy” and that “governments should be working to make it easier to vote, not harder.”
And Brad Smith, the president of Microsoft, wrote a long blog post about the Georgia law, detailing what he saw as the legislation’s failings and suggesting that corporate America try to get it changed.
“We hope that companies will come together and make clear that a healthy business requires a healthy community,” Mr. Smith said. “And a healthy community requires that everyone have the right to vote conveniently, safely, and securely. This new law falls short of the mark, and we should work together to press the Georgia legislature to change it.”
Andrew Ross Sorkin contributed reporting.