Supporting Voting Rights is Good for Business
It’s hard to believe that so many companies that were loud champions of voting rights in the lead up to the 2020 election initially remained silent about Georgia’s abrogation of voting rights last week.
Even after President Biden called the legislation “Jim Crow in the 21st Century,” Delta Airlines, Georgia’s largest employer, actually applauded parts of the bill, until the company received so much public pressure that it reversed course a day later. Not surprisingly, there have been calls to boycott Delta and Coca Cola, both Atlanta-based companies, for their tepid, late response to the legislation.
Georgia’s new law erects significant barriers to voting, including restrictive identification requirements for absentee voting, limiting ballot box drop off locations, and undermining local election officials by allowing state legislators to take over local election boards. All of these changes predominantly disenfranchise people of color.
As a shift in corporate accountability unfolded over the last week, one thing is clear: disenfranchising voters is not just bad politics, it is bad for business. This kind of purposeful silencing and disempowerment has a real and lasting damaging effect on workforces, customers, and other key stakeholder groups who are mission critical for many businesses.
That is why over the last year, so many companies and their leaders have eagerly jumped into the conversation about voting in America. Many businesses now allow their employees time off to vote, and corporations like Facebook, Patagonia and the NBA are spending millions of dollars to promote citizen engagement. CEOs have recognized that engaging proactively to encourage voting is not just good policy, it makes economic sense.
In part, the value proposition for businesses to support civic participation stems from growing consumer expectations for CEOs and other leaders to weigh in on pressing social issues like voting. According to the GSG annual Business and Politics report, 72% of a bipartisan group of respondents say that CEOs have a responsibility to bring about social change and almost two thirds say that they want corporations to act as leaders with elected officials in addressing social and political issues.
Workforces agree with consumers. In a recent Garner study, “Three-quarters of employees expect their employer to take a stance on current societal or cultural issues,” and 68% would consider moving to companies that take a stronger stance on issues than their current company does.
In contrast to their competitors, American Airlines and Dell Technologies (both headquartered in Texas) were first coming out strongly against voter suppression bills that are working their way through the Texas state legislature, perhaps learning from the mistakes made in Georgia.
The Texas proposals include shorter early voting hours and a requirement for disabled people to provide an official diagnosis of their disability from a physician or the federal government to be able to get an absentee ballot. Dell said, “Instead of seeking to limit access, governments should provide innovative pathways for citizens to have their voices heard.”
To be authentic champions of pro-voter policies companies need to do even more. They must engage proactively in the process. Corporate lobbyists in state capitols across the country, where there are currently over 61 bills in 47 states that would restrict the right to vote, should engage over voting rights just as in any other business priority.
Corporations can demonstrate leadership by leveraging their campaign contributions and can join together with other companies use their voices to hold accountable policy makers and legislators who support voter suppression laws. As Texas State Representative John Bucey said this week, “In a state that relies on big business, we need their voice, we need more big businesses to speak up.”
The 1,900 businesses that signed on to the “Time to Vote” initiative, designed to ensure workers can vote without penalty. This was an important first step. Now, companies must take a strong, loud, and early stand on the importance of making voting accessible to everyone and ensuring that every vote counts. It is both a political, moral, and most importantly — business imperative.
Josh Wachs is Founder of Wachs Strategies, a social impact firm partnering with corporations, non-profits, and philanthropies to develop cohesive social impact strategies that increase both their business and social impact bottom lines.