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Lawsuits, Boycotts: Latest On Fallout From Georgia's Sweeping Voting Law

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We wanted to follow up on a major story that dominated our attention last month. We're talking about that sweeping 98-page voting law that drastically alters how elections will be run in Georgia. It was signed by Republican Governor Brian Kemp at the end of March after it was passed by the GOP-controlled legislature. Backlash to the law, which was called the Election Integrity Act of 2021, has been intense. Major League Baseball moved the All-Star Game out of the state. Some A-list entertainers said they were suspending projects there. Voting rights groups are filing federal lawsuits, and some have called for boycotts of Georgia-based companies like Home Depot.

But there's also been a backlash to the backlash, with conservatives railing against and vowing consequences for corporations that criticized the new law. We wanted to talk about all of that with Georgia Public Broadcasting's Stephen Fowler, who has been tracking voting issues for us. And he is with us now. Stephen, welcome. Thanks for joining us.

STEPHEN FOWLER, BYLINE: Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: If you would, just start by reminding us about some of the provisions in the bill - and I'm saying some because it's a massive bill - some of the more controversial provisions, and then bring us up to speed on some of the events since the bill was signed.

FOWLER: Right. The law touches virtually every part of how we do elections in Georgia. So there have been at least five federal lawsuits filed to block different pieces, including new ID requirements to vote by mail, narrowing the window you can request a mail-in ballot, adding early voting days for some elections and removing them for runoffs and much, much more. Those suits are all pending and will take a while. Meanwhile, there have been these dueling perspectives on boycotts of the state.

On the one hand, Democratic leaders like Stacey Abrams have said boycotts would punish working Georgians who didn't have a role in passing the law and would be unhelpful. But others have made calls to boycott the state's large companies that have not been forceful enough in denouncing parts of the law, this law that has been painted as, quote, "Jim Crow 2.0" that will make it harder for nonwhite Georgians to cast their ballot.

MARTIN: Now, we mentioned Major League Baseball's decision to move the All-Star Game away from Atlanta, to move it to Colorado. What's the latest on how corporations have been responding to this push to publicly take a stance on voting rights in general and in particular this law?

FOWLER: Well, the most visible corporate response has been the one by Major League Baseball, but there have been things for sure. A handful of film and TV productions, for example, have made a point to say they're pulling out of Georgia or not going to consider them for future opportunities. Atlanta is home to a lot of Fortune 500 companies as well, including home-grown businesses, like Coca-Cola, Delta and Home Depot. Well, Coke and Delta leaders spoke out against this law, calling it unacceptable. Others have remained more neutral. And a coalition of Black clergy have called for a boycott of Home Depot because of their rather tepid response. Then there's companies like Patagonia, which is not a Georgia company. And they're giving a million dollars to Georgia voting rights groups to counteract this legislation.

MARTIN: And can I ask you about the backlash to the backlash? I mean, you've heard rumblings in Congress about trying to revoke Major League Baseball's antitrust protections and things of that sort. I mean, you've heard some sort of petty things, like people demanding that Coca-Cola be removed from their office suites and things of that sort. But has there been any sort of significant counter move against the opposition to the bill?

FOWLER: Absolutely, you know? In the waning days of Georgia's legislative session, when some of these big companies made their statements, like Coke and Delta, the Georgia State House, which is controlled by Republicans, passed sort of a shot across the bow that they were going to remove a jet fuel tax break that Delta enjoyed that ultimately didn't go anywhere but sent a message. And the House speaker talked about how he drank a Pepsi for the first time just to see how it tasted as kind of this spiteful move. But you do see some sort of backlash to the backlash, like you said, coming with members of Congress exploring ways to punish Major League Baseball, punish Delta, punish Coca-Cola, punish these businesses that have kind of now spoken out in favor of voting rights.

MARTIN: And so Georgia has been a traditionally Republican state that narrowly flipped last November, you know, electing two Democrats to the United States Senate. Next year, there will be a statewide election with the governor, the secretary of state and Senator Raphael Warnock among those on the ballot. So is this new voting law shaping - or how is it shaping next year's races?

FOWLER: Well, Michel, it's dominating discussions. And, honestly, both parties are benefiting from the national attention, and they're crafting their messages around this bill. Democrats point to Georgia's long history of blatantly racist voting laws, saying this is the latest example of leadership that wants to keep Black people from voting. And it's expected Stacey Abrams, who spent the last three years fighting for expanded voter access across the country, will run for governor again with this as the centerpiece of her platform.

Now, Republicans, who are reeling from these losses in November and January, are using this law as a rallying cry to get the base excited about protecting election integrity. They're railing against the cancer culture of Major League Baseball's decision and these boycotts, this backlash to the backlash. But some local county Republican conventions voted to censure Governor Brian Kemp, Lieutenant Governor Geoff Duncan and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger for not doing enough to overturn the election to President Trump's favor. So voting elections are definitely driving the conversations here in Georgia for what will definitely be a contentious showdown next year.

MARTIN: That is Georgia Public Broadcasting's Stephen Fowler. Stephen, a lot to talk about. Thank you so much.

FOWLER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.