Hundreds of US corporations and executives signed on to a new statement calling for a defence of Americans’ voting rights, the latest united backlash against state initiatives that could restrict voters’ access to the polls.
In a full page advertisement that ran Wednesday in the New York Times, the signatories called for “all Americans to join us in taking a nonpartisan stand for this most basic and fundamental right.”
“We all should feel a responsibility to defend the right to vote and to oppose any discriminatory legislation or measures that restrict or prevent any eligible voter from having an equal and fair opportunity to cast a ballot,” the statement read.
The letter stopped short of specific actions, such as halting donations to candidates that support restrictions on voter access or pausing investments in states that act upon such proposals.
Signatories span big tech companies like Facebook Inc., consumer companies including Starbucks Corp. and Target Corp., and financial firms, among others. Michael Bloomberg, founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent company Bloomberg LP, also signed as an individual.
The push by Corporate America comes as a number of state legislatures move to limit voting access, with some curbs already passed. A new law in Georgia last month requires voters to provide a state-issued identification card when requesting an absentee ballot and limits drop boxes, among other restrictions, with Texas, Arizona and Florida discussing their own restrictions.
“The freedom to vote is a huge priority for the public, consumers and employees,” Mike Ward, co-founder of the Civic Alliance, which assisted in the initiative, said in an interview. “Businesses are leading because they have their fingers on pulse of their key stakeholders and they know that the freedom to vote and health of democracy is a top priority.”
The statement shows the movement is gaining traction. It was Black CEOs who originally condemned restrictions and began to push for action, including Kenneth Chenault, the former chief at American Express Co., and Kenneth Frazier, the CEO of Merck & Co. Wednesday’s statement also includes nonprofits, foundations, law firms and celebrities, from Leo DiCaprio to Larry David.
Critics of the new voting restrictions say the changes are aimed chiefly at limiting participation of Americans of colour. And while in the past, many companies tried to stay out of political disputes for fear of drawing a partisan backlash, customers are increasingly demanding their favourite brands take a stance on issues that matter to them, from sustainability to inclusion.
“There is a budding realisation from business leaders: Society expects more from them. They cannot do and will not do business as usual,” Meredith Sumpter, CEO of the Council for Inclusive Capitalism, said in an interview. “They are exploring a new frontier of leadership as CEOs in a very divided America.”
By Anne Riley Moffat and Deena Shanker