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EDITORIAL

MLB, corporate leaders wake up to assault on voting rights

The question remains: What’s the long-term plan to protect the citizens of Georgia and other states threatened with disenfranchisement?

A voter submits a ballot in an official drop box during early voting in Athens, Ga., Oct. 19, 2020. A new Georgia law, among other constraints on voting, restricts the availability of drop boxes for absentee ballots.
A voter submits a ballot in an official drop box during early voting in Athens, Ga., Oct. 19, 2020. A new Georgia law, among other constraints on voting, restricts the availability of drop boxes for absentee ballots.John Bazemore/Associated Press

Georgia is now in the eye of a storm of its own creation — as sports organizations and corporate leaders awaken to the fact that voter suppression is un-American.

It’s not too late to salvage voting rights in Georgia — hateful laws have been reversed before in the wake of public pressure. It’s also not too late to save dozens of other states whose legislatures are considering similar partisan, racially motivated bills.

Major League Baseball took a giant step in the right direction Friday when it opted to move July’s All-Star Game out of Atlanta. But other corporate leaders will have to step up with more than words and good intentions.

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Georgia’s Republican-dominated Legislature responded to the recent victories of Joe Biden and two Democratic US Senate candidates in late March by passing a law — they even had the nerve to call it voting “reform” — that will require voter ID for mail-in ballots, shorten the period for runoff elections, restrict the availability of drop boxes for absentee ballots, and make it a crime for third-party groups to hand out water or food to voters waiting in line.

And to punish Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, for his persistent truth-telling in the face of Donald Trump’s equally persistent lies about voter fraud, the bill would strip the secretary of state from the state election board — now and forever.

The bill’s intent was hardly a secret. And it harked back to the worst of the Jim Crow era, when government officials in the South made blatant and aggressive efforts to prevent Black citizens from exercising their right to vote. But Georgia’s new law is also a cautionary tale — cautionary because many powerful people have reacted only belatedly to this growing cancer on the body politic.

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While MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said moving the All-Star Game out of Atlanta was “the best way to demonstrate our values as a sport,” it was also a decision driven by pressure from the Major League Players Association and civil rights groups. Even President Biden weighed in, during an ESPN interview, saying he would “strongly support” athletes’ efforts to move the game.

And the MLB action has more than symbolic value — especially if other cancellations follow.

Similar tactics worked back in 2016 after North Carolina passed the “bathroom bill” to deny transgender people the right to use the bathroom of their choice. The NBA relocated its All-Star Game, and a host of major corporations — Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Dow Chemical — demanded repeal. As the NCAA contemplated withdrawing the state’s host status for March Madness games in 2017, lawmakers relented.

In Georgia, the line-up of influential opponents is growing and now includes the owners of Atlanta’s football team, the Falcons, and its basketball team, the Hawks.

Nationally, 72 Black executives signed a letter, run as an ad in Wednesday’s New York Times, protesting the Georgia law and any like it aimed at restricting voting rights and pledging to use their clout and their lobbying efforts to fight those laws.

“The Georgia Legislature was the first one,” said Kenneth Frazier, chief executive of Merck and a leader of the effort. “If corporate America doesn’t stand up, we’ll get these laws passed in many places in this country.”

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The CEOs of Georgia-based Delta Airlines and Coca-Cola followed with statements of their own. Delta CEO Ed Bastian told CBS “This Morning” Thursday, “This is about protecting the voices of our people. . . . Here in Atlanta, we’ve got a very, very large Black employee base. Almost universally, they are hurt by the law and the legislation that was enacted.”

But Bastian had said earlier he thought the law had been “improved considerably” from its original form, which led to significant public backlash and calls for boycotting Delta.

Many corporate leaders have only after the fact come to the realization that voter suppression on this scale is worth condemning. Even Frazier admits, “When the law passed, I started paying attention.”

Well now everyone is out of excuses. The Georgia law is ugly and pernicious and at its core un-American. And there are dozens of other states where GOP-dominated legislatures are already seeing it as a model.

The real, long-term solution is a new federal voting rights act that will halt this assault on the electoral system in its tracks. But in this political reality, with this Congress, that will require suspending the filibuster in the Senate, something that just enough lawmakers appear reluctant to do.

Yet now that corporate America — or at least part of it — has woken up, now that athletes are thinking twice about setting foot in a place where Black voters are being denied their basic rights, the model for rallying public support and forcing lawmakers’ hands could be North Carolina.

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Economic clout is a powerful weapon. So is public shaming. And right now Georgia lawmakers and Congress ought to be made to feel the power of both.


Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us on Twitter at @GlobeOpinion.