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How corporations can respond meaningfully to voter suppression bills

When companies take a stand on social issues that are important to the public—like voter suppression—it can have a major impact on legislation.

How corporations can respond meaningfully to voter suppression bills
[Source Images: RakicN/iStock, thiago melo/iStock, umesh chandra/iStock]
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The 2020 presidential election was a monumental moment, with far-reaching implications for both sides of the aisle. While Democrats celebrated after four long and contentious years under the previous administration, Republicans wasted little time before formulating a game plan for a resurgence in 2022.

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Nearly overnight, voting rights became a key nationwide issue as Republican-controlled states pushed forth new voter restriction bills that Democrats were left to tackle. As of March 24th, 361 new bills have been introduced in 47 states that include restrictive voting provisions.

Congress, however, has pending legislation that aims to make voting easier, more transparent, and less susceptible to fraud. The For the People Act would recommit the nation to the principles of democratic participation and full and fair voting rights.

As the tug of war in Washington continues, people are looking to businesses and corporations to take a clear stance against voter suppression laws that go beyond performative acts of support. This raises the question: How can businesses respond effectively and create meaningful change in the communities they reside in?

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A look back at voting across the country

The fight for voting rights has played a significant role in the narrative and legacy of racial justice advocacy in America. This was most notably exemplified in the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was a response to the oppressive institutionalization of Jim Crow laws and election restrictions for Black Americans.

Despite the groundbreaking strides that were made in the expansion of democracy since its passage, the Supreme Court struck down a key portion of the bill in 2013, which has given way to the recent uptick in voter suppression legislation that many voting rights advocates have dubbed The New Jim Crow. This trend has coincided with the racial awakening that met the country in 2020, resulting in a string of nationwide mass protests that was one of the largest movements in America’s history.

The urgency from both the Biden Administration and Congress to meet the moment has led to the push for the passage of the For the People Act, which includes a comprehensive set of reforms to the voting and election process that remains stalled in the Senate. Another bill of interest that is awaiting introduction and passage in the House is the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, which would reinstall the portion of the Voting Rights Act struck down by the Supreme Court.

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As both sides of the aisle wrestle for a path forward, corporations can make sure their voices—as well as the voices of their customers, communities and company culture—are still heard.

History looks kindly on companies who take a stand

As the public awaits action from Congress to pass meaningful legislation to protect voting rights, more people have become aware of the corporate world’s role in speaking out on this issue. In fact, a report from Morning Consult shows that 42% of the electorate have increased favorability towards a company’s decision to speak out against restrictive voting laws, while only 22% reported having less favorability with these actions.

Taking a stand on social issues can go a long way in making an impact on legislation at all levels, generating positive responses from advocates and thinkers closest to the issue. It can and also build lasting positive trust with community members and employees.

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This was evident most recently when large companies like Coca Cola and Delta denounced the restrictive voting requirements within Georgia’s new voting laws and MLB decided to relocate the 2021 All Star Game out of Atlanta. Additionally, hundreds of CEOs released a joint statement condemning the legislation. Although Georgia’s voting measure ultimately passed, the corporations’ responses left a mark on the national conversation and suggested that similar legislation that might be pushed in other states would face ramifications as well.

Getting it right

For a company that wants to take action but is unsure of how or where to begin, below are a few steps to follow:

  • Be intentional with your community: Facilitating ongoing and productive conversations with local leaders and organizers is a critical step in becoming well-versed in the key barriers to voting while also ensuring the community that your future actions will be guided by the voices most impacted by the issue.
  • Speak out! One of the most effective tools that large companies have at their disposal is their influence on culture and by extension, future legislation. The platforms offered to them by the mainstream press, advertisement spaces, and large social media followings present unique opportunities to spread awareness on key issues that can help drive change in Washington and state legislative chambers. This is particularly true for support for voting rights and fighting onerous voting restrictions.
  • Walk the walk: Actionable items like providing employees time to volunteer at a polling location and encouraging them to get out and vote are easy ways to set examples for the rest of the country, while simultaneously displaying your commitment to inclusive, forward-thinking values to consumers and workers. Survey data from Glassdoor and Harris Poll suggest that employers who pay attention to taking a stand on such issues may have an advantage when it comes to attracting top talent, with 75% of workers 34 and younger saying they expect their employer to speak up about important matters affecting the country.

Due to a myriad of societal, political, and cultural factors, we are now living in a time of heightened activism and potential substantive change, with voting rights at the forefront. Positive, decisive, and intentional community engagement from your company during this moment will go a long way in building trust with your employees and community stakeholders, and help your firm meet the emerging socially-responsible demands necessary to becoming a company of the future.

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Eric Eve is CEO and founder of the Black-owned consulting firm Ichor Strategies. Ahmed Karrar is Director at Ichor Strategies.