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A voter drops an election ballot off at the Pitkin County Administration box in Aspen, Colorado, on Nov. 6, 2018.Anna Stonehouse / The Aspen Times via AP

Leading executives step up defense of voting rights, defying GOP

"We stand for democracy," the companies said in a new statement. What they do next - and how Republicans respond - will make a big difference.


NBC News reported over the weekend that several dozen CEOs, business leaders, lawyers, and experts were in discussions about taking "further action" against Republican efforts to curtail voting rights nationwide. Whether they would follow through remained to be seen.

We are, however, just now starting to see the results of the discussions.

Dozens of companies, including Amazon, Google, Starbucks and Netflix, joined hundreds of business leaders, celebrities, and other prominent names to sign a new statement opposing "any discriminatory legislation" that would restrict ballot access. The statement, appearing Wednesday as advertisements in The New York Times and The Washington Post, is the latest and largest mobilization by corporate America against restrictive voting legislation advanced by Republicans around the country.

The statement, which stretched across two full pages, read in part, "We stand for democracy. We all should feel a responsibility to defend the right to vote and to oppose any discriminatory legislation or measures that restrict or prevent any eligible voter from having an equal and fair opportunity to cast a ballot."

Among the dozens of corporate signatories are Target, Bank of America, Apple, Cisco, Berkshire Partners, American Express, and Wells Fargo. According to a New York Times report, spearheading the effort was Kenneth Chenault, a former chief executive of American Express, and Kenneth Frazier, the chief executive of Merck.

To be sure, we've seen related efforts of late, with many leading businesses in specific states -- Georgia, Texas, Michigan, et al. -- criticizing Republican proposals to put barriers between Americans and their own democracy, but this new statement appears to represent a national escalation of the pushback against the GOP's campaign against voting rights.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) last week demanded that corporate CEOs "stay out of politics," while also suggesting they continue to send campaign contributions.

Evidently, the Republican leader's rhetoric went largely ignored.

What's less clear, of course, is what's likely to happen next. Among voting-rights supporters in the private sector, today's high-profile statement was, in effect, a shot across the bow, intended to get the attention of voter-suppression advocates. The effort is likely to have some effect: Republicans will almost certainly hear about this, whether or not they read the nation's largest dailies.

But if this was the first step, GOP officials will no doubt wonder about the second. Will corporations start moving business ventures out of states that curtail voting rights? Will they start lobbying in support of the Democrats' "For the People Act"? Will they curtail financial support for Republicans who vote for voter-suppression measures?

If the answer to these questions is "no," Republicans will almost certainly shrug off the joint statement and proceed apace with their anti-voting measures, indifferent to rhetorical jabs that will likely be forgotten by the next Election Day.

What's more, let's also not forget that McConnell told reporters last week that corporations "will invite serious consequences" if they continue down this road, and we've already seen some Republican officeholders move forward with plans to retaliate against businesses that stand in the way of anti-voting initiatives.

Watch this space.