Wednesday afternoon, Coca-Cola and Delta Airlines changed course and voiced strong opposition to Georgia’s overhaul of its election rules and regulations. Delta Airlines CEO Ed Bastian offered his statement after the boisterous disapproval of the company’s initial statement that supported portions of Senate Bill 202, but not all of the measure.

“The entire rationale for this bill was based on a lie: that there was widespread voter fraud in Georgia in the 2020 elections. This is simply not true,” Delta CEO Ed Bastian wrote, alluding to former President Donald Trump’s claims that his loss was due to fraud. “Unfortunately, that excuse is being used in states across the nation that are attempting to pass similar legislation to restrict voting rights.”

Delta Airlines, Georgia’s largest employer, has been facing calls for boycotts by civil rights and community leaders.

President and CEO of Coca-Cola, James Quincey, said he always has been against legislation in Georgia that restricts voter access. However, he hasn’t made a public statement against Senate Bill 202 until now. 

“I want to be crystal clear,” said James Quincey, Coca-Cola’s chief executive. “The Coca-Cola Company does not support this legislation, as it makes it harder for people to vote, not easier.”

“Now that it’s passed, we’re coming out more publicly,” Quincey continued. 

Merck CEO Ken Frazier and former American Express CEO Ken Chenault, both of whom are Black, asked corporate leaders to oppose the law. Frazier issued a statement and spoke out on CNBC Wednesday morning against Brian Kemp’s measure.

“As Black business leaders, we cannot sit silently in the face of this gathering threat to our nation’s democratic values and allow the fundamental right of Americans, to cast their votes for whomever they choose, to be trampled upon yet again,” Frazier’s letter reads.

The letter was signed by 72 Black executives. They included Roger Ferguson Jr., the chief executive of TIAA; Mellody Hobson and John Rogers Jr., the co-chief executives of Ariel Investments; Robert F. Smith, the chief executive of Vista Equity Partners; and Raymond McGuire, a former Citigroup executive who is running for mayor of New York.

“This impacts all Americans, but we also need to acknowledge the history of voting rights for African-Americans,” Chenault said. “And as African-American executives in corporate America, what we were saying is we want corporate America to understand that, and we want them to work with us.”

The letter ran as a full-page ad in The New York Times.

In the days before Senate Bill 202 passed, no company voiced opposition against the voting bills. That was not lost on Georgia Governor Brian Kemp’s mind. 

Governor Kemp told WSB-TV he stands by the new laws. He believes he’s made sure it’s easy to vote and hard to cheat in Georgia elections.

 “I knew what was coming from the other side. I knew that they were going to try to do this boycott, cancel culture, and everything else,” Kemp said in a Tuesday interview with WSB-TV. “And I wanted to get out in front of that and get the bill signed and let people know what was in it.”

Wednesday afternoon, the Governor’s office released this statement to WSB-TV following the brush back from the business community:

“Throughout the legislative process, we spoke directly with Delta representatives numerous times. We worked alongside legislative leadership to expand voting opportunities for Georgians, while also taking steps to further secure the ballot box. At no point did Delta share any opposition to expanding early voting, strengthening voter ID measures, increasing the use of secure drop boxes statewide, and making it easier for local election officials to administer elections — which is exactly what this bill does. The last time I flew Delta, I had to present my photo ID.

Today’s statement by Delta CEO Ed Bastian stands in stark contrast to our conversations with the company, ignores the content of the new law, and unfortunately continues to spread the same false attacks being repeated by partisan activists. The truth is the Election Integrity Act expands voting access and protects the sanctity and security of the ballot box. Mr. Bastian should compare voting laws in Georgia — which include no-excuse absentee balloting, online voter registration, 17 days of early voting with an additional two optional Sundays, and automatic voter registration when obtaining a driver’s license — with other states Delta Airlines operates in.”

Meanwhile, Frazier believes it’s time for executives to stand up and speak out.

“As African-American business executives, we don’t have the luxury of being bystanders to injustice,” Mr. Frazier said. “We don’t have the luxury of sitting on the sidelines when these kinds of injustices are happening all around us.”

An undated photo of Delta Airlines CEO Ed Bastian. (AP Photo/Graham Hughes)

Itoro Umontuen currently serves as Managing Editor of The Atlanta Voice. Upon his arrival to the historic publication, he served as their Director of Photography. As a mixed-media journalist, Umontuen...

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