Voter Suppression Opponents Enlist Support from Major U.S. Corporations

Interview with Marge Baker, executive vice president for policy and program with People For the American Way, conducted by Scott Harris 

An early April Reuters/Ipsos poll finds that 55 percent of Republicans believe Donald Trump’s 2020 election defeat resulted from illegal voting or election rigging, while 35 percent of Republicans agreed that people who gathered at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6th were peaceful, law-abiding Americans and that the violent riot was actually led by violent left-wing protestors trying to make Trump look bad.

The big lie about voter fraud, promoted by the disgraced former president and his allies, provides a deceitful justification to continue a pattern begun over a decade ago, where Republican legislators today are working to pass more than 360 voter suppression laws in 47 states. These legislative proposals are similar to measures recently signed into law in Georgia, designed to make it more difficult for communities of color and young people to vote in future elections.

Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Marge Baker, executive vice president for policy and program with People for the American Way. Here, she talks about the battle against proposed GOP voter suppression bills across the U.S. that has recently enlisted the support of some major U.S. corporations — and the fight for passage of the sweeping electoral reform bill known as “For the People Act” in the U.S. Senate.

MARGE BAKER: Republican legislatures around the country were not happy with the fact that so many people voted in the last election and have drummed up and tried to perpetuate this big lie that there’s voter fraud. And of course, it’s not been documented in any way, shape or form. I mean the countless, countless lawsuits and independent audits, and they cannot find voter fraud. It is a big lie, but they continue to push it and they push it because they only want certain people to vote. And so there’s more than 360 measures in 47 states. And there are at least 55 pieces of legislation moving now through various legislatures — Georgia, Texas, Arizona, and many, many more, with an effort to try to limit access to voting and those limitations unduly impact communities of color. It’s things like draconian IDs that are needed to vote and making it hard to put your vote in a dropbox. And limiting the circumstances under which you can vote by mail and what’s necessary in order to vote by mail. Limiting early voting. So many things that were tried very effectively, made necessary because of the pandemic and that worked amazingly to increase turnout and increased accessibility to the polls. But that’s not what they want. They don’t want everybody to vote. They only want certain people to vote.

SCOTT HARRIS: Well, Marge, one interesting development that we’ve seen unfold in recent days, and that is activists have pressured corporations. First in Georgia, where companies like Delta Airlines, Home Depot and Coca-Cola are based, trying to get them to enlist opposition to these draconian voter suppression laws. These companies did not act before the law was passed and signed into law in Georgia, but they piped up recently. Black corporate executives from around the country have similarly stepped up to oppose these laws publicly. Just the other day, I read that 100 business leaders from major corporations all across the country have been on a conference call planning to attack Republican voter suppression laws. And they’ve discussed things like withholding campaign contributions from the Republican candidates who support these voter suppression laws. And there’s also the possibility these companies could withdraw business from the states that are enacting such voter suppression laws. What do you think is going on here?

MARGE BAKER: That’s exactly right. And, it’s prominent companies: AMC theaters, Starbucks, United Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Airlines, Boston Consulting Group, Levi Strauss. It’s a broad range of companies. And what’s going on, I think, is this is a moment when the American public are demanding to know not just which side their elected officials are, but which side the companies that they do business are on the side of. This is a moment in time. Are you on the side of, right? Are you on the side of fairness? Or are you on the side of something that’s draconian —voter suppression, not acceptable, not consistent with our democratic ideals? And this is the time to choose. Which side of history you’re going to be on? And I think these companies are indicative of the power of the people in demanding, which side of history both their elected officials and the companies they are doing business with need to be on.

SCOTT HARRIS: So a major piece of legislation called the For the People Act is a democracy reform, electoral reform bill that passed the House. It’s now awaiting action in the U.S. Senate. But of course, with the Democrats only having effectively 51 votes with Vice President Kamala Harris, they need to either reform the filibuster or get rid of it or recruit 10 Republicans to join them. Tell us a little bit about the battle ahead with For the People Act in the U.S. Senate.

MARGE BAKER: This is the boldest democracy promotion measure in decades, and it includes measures that we’ve been talking about to address the suppression of the vote and to improve access to the vote, to just make voting easier. It’s got measures to help diminish the influence of big money in politics, in particular, through a small donor matching grant program that allows candidates without deep pockets to run for office. It also has really important efforts to curtail partisan gerrymandering, which is the process where elected officials in closed rooms draw up the maps that allow them to pick their voters as opposed to the voters picking them. So it’s huge, huge and I’m just touching the surface. It’s comprehensive. It is bold. It is exciting. And you’re absolutely right. It passed the House and is in the Senate and the Senate is split 50-50.

And so I think based on just the vote count and where Republicans in the Senate have announced they are, it’s very, very unlikely to get the 60 votes that would be necessary under current Senate rules to cut off debate to end the filibuster. And so we are probably moving to a showdown over whether the rules of the Senate will be changed so that this measure could pass with 51 votes. It’s possible to do. Republicans have done it many times in many different contexts, in different matters, but this is going to be a major fight. It’s going to come to a head over whether a bill that has just broad public support, three-quarters of the American people want this bill and want all provisions of this bill — the Voting Rights provisions, the campaign finance provisions, the gerrymandering provisions, they want all of it. And it’s going to be a huge, huge test of whether there will be 51 votes to move the measure forward.

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