Cooper, Whitmer lead national call for businesses to ‘speak out’ on voter restrictions

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Michael Wilner, Brian Murphy
·5 min read
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North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper and Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer have helped organize a bipartisan letter calling on businesses to speak out against a flurry of bills introduced across the country that would restrict voting access.

The open letter, obtained by McClatchy, was signed by more than 50 current and former governors, lieutenant governors, state attorneys general and secretaries of state, who described themselves as “deeply concerned about the wave of voter restrictions sweeping the country.”

“We are asking the business leaders in our states, and throughout the country, to add their voices to the growing chorus of corporations standing on the right side of history,” the letter reads.

State lawmakers across the county have introduced hundreds of bills centered on elections this year — after former President Donald Trump’s public complaints about mail-in ballots, fraud and other aspects of his 2020 election loss. In Georgia, where Trump lost in November and Democrats captured two majority-winning U.S. Senate seats in January, lawmakers passed a large election overhaul.

Critics complained the measure was designed to limit voting rights, especially for Black voters who were pivotal to Democrats’ success in the 2020 election. And corporations raised their own very public objections. Major League Baseball moved its July All-Star Game from Atlanta as a result. Georgia-based companies, such as Delta and Coca-Cola, spoke out against the law.

“More than 360 bills aimed at restricting voting access have been introduced across 47 states,” the letter reads. “Many of them are based on the same lies that led to violence during the 2020 elections, and they add barriers to voting that disproportionately impact voters of color, the elderly, our veterans, and those with disabilities.”

Cooper and Whitmer, both Democrats, co-sponsored the letter with three former Republican governors, Arne Carlson of Minnesota, Bill Weld of Massachusetts and Christine Todd Whitman of New Jersey.

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“I think in 2020, we got a glimpse of how far anti-democracy forces are willing to go, and with bills popping in states across the country, it’s got to be an all-hands-on-deck moment for our democracy,” Whitmer told McClatchy in a phone interview Monday evening.

“Fundamental to our democracy is our ability to choose our leaders in this country, and any corporation that is here in this country needs to step in and support our efforts to protect all voices,” Whitmer said. “This is about the employees of those corporations. This is about their customers. This is about democracy.”

The letter was organized by the States United Democracy Center, a new nonpartisan organization formed by the leaders who ran the Voter Protection Program in 2020. The program engaged in legal and communications efforts during the 2020 election, including supporting litigation to stop changes at the U.S. Postal Service, defending expanded voting laws and issuing legal advisories about voter intimidation, according to its site.

“Voting is among the most fundamental rights of our democracy and it is critical that leaders from all backgrounds, including in our business community, come together in support of protecting the freedom to vote,” Cooper said in a statement to McClatchy.

Republicans, including some in the U.S. Senate, have pushed back on corporations getting involved in political issues, threatening legislation to remove MLB’s antitrust exemption, for example.

No sitting Republican governors signed on to the letter, which drew the support of Democratic governors such as Jay Inslee of Washington, Tim Walz of Minnesota, Tony Evers of Wisconsin and Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania.

North Carolina dealt with its own corporate backlash to legislation in 2016 — the year Cooper first won the governor’s mansion.

The NBA and NCAA pulled high-profile events from the state and companies canceled plans to move to North Carolina after the passage of House Bill 2, the so-called “bathroom bill,” which said people in schools and other government buildings must use the bathroom matching the gender on their birth certificate, and which limited localities’ ability to add their own nondiscrimination ordinances.

One estimate calculated the negative economic impact to North Carolina at $3.76 billion. Cooper signed a compromise repeal of HB2 early in 2017.

North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein and Secretary of State Elaine Marshall — both Democrats, who like Cooper, were reelected in 2020 — signed the letter, as well.

“Companies, and the people who work for them, are vital parts of our communities,” the letter reads. “We’ve seen corporations rightly rally to the side of equal rights and racial justice. We’ve worked with state and local business leaders to confront the economic struggles of a global pandemic. And now, we need more companies to add their public support for protecting voting rights.”

“It’s time for more businesses in our states to step up and join those to whom we are so grateful for speaking out,” it reads. “Please speak out.”

In North Carolina, Republican lawmakers have filed a bill that would not allow county election boards to accept absentee ballots that are received after Election Day. The state collected and counted 14,500 ballots that were received legally after Election Day in 2020.

A state-level trial over the constitutionality of the state’s 2018 voter ID law began earlier this month, while a federal one awaits.

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