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After backlash, Delta CEO calls Georgia voting law ‘unacceptable’

Published: Mar. 31, 2021 at 1:34 PM EDT
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ATLANTA - The CEO of Georgia-based Delta Air Lines said Wednesday that the state’s new election law overhaul is “unacceptable” and “based on a lie,” after the company faced criticism that it didn’t speak out forcefully enough in opposition to the bill when it was being considered by the state’s Republican leaders.

CEO Ed Bastian offered his assessment of the new Georgia law in a memo sent to employees less than a week after Delta officials joined other corporate lobbyists to shape the final version of a sweeping measure that could make it harder for some Georgia citizens to cast ballots.

The memo, obtained by The Associated Press, comes amid a smattering of calls for consumer boycotts of Delta and other Georgia-based brands, including Coca-Cola, UPS and Home Depot. The Major League Baseball players union also has raised the possibility of moving the summer All-Star game from the Atlanta Braves home stadium.

Delta Air Lines initially issued a statement touting some parts of the law, such as expanded weekend voting, but said “we understand concerns remain over other provisions in the legislation and there continues to be work ahead in this important effort.”

But Bastian spoke more forcefully in Wednesday’s memo to employees.

“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,” 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.”

Bastian repeated that Delta “joined other major Atlanta corporations to work closely with elected officials from both parties, to try and remove some of the most egregious measures from the bill. We had some success in eliminating the most suppressive tactics that some had proposed.”

But, he emphasized, “I need to make it crystal clear that the final bill is unacceptable and does not match Delta’s values.”

The CEO of Georgia-based Delta Air Lines says the state’s new election law overhaul is “unacceptable” and “based on a lie,” after the company faced criticism that it didn’t speak out forcefully enough in opposition to the bill.

CEO Ed Bastian offered his assessment of the new Georgia law in a memo sent Wednesday to employees less than a week after Delta officials joined other corporate lobbyists to shape the final version of the measure that could make it harder for some Georgia citizens to cast ballots.

The new law was signed last week by Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, hours after it cleared the state legislature. It is part of a tide of GOP-sponsored election bills introduced in states across the country after Trump’s false assertions about the 2020 elections. President Joe Biden won Georgia’s 16 electoral votes by about 12,000 votes out of almost 5 million cast, and Democrats won two Jan. 5 Senate runoffs to give the party control of the chamber on Capitol Hill.

Georgia officials, including Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, also a Republican, have vouched for the accuracy of the election counts even as they backed some changes that could make it harder for Georgians to cast absentee ballots, a method that more than a fifth of the November electorate used.

The Georgia law adds a photo ID requirement for voting absentee by mail, cuts the amount of time people have to request an absentee ballot and limits where drop boxes can be placed and when they can be accessed. It also bans people from handing out food or water to voters waiting in line and allows the Republican-controlled State Election Board to remove and replace county election officials while curtailing the power of the secretary of state as Georgia’s chief elections officer.

Republicans in Georgia insist the changes are needed to restore voters’ confidence.

Civil rights and voting rights groups have filed multiple federal lawsuits challenging the Georgia law. Activists also have turned their attention to congressional Democrats’ push for sweeping federal action on voting rights. Democrats’ measures in Washington could effectively override many of the changes being enacted in Georgia and considered in dozens of other state legislatures led by Republicans.

The measure also prompted a letter by Georgia African Methodist Episcopal Bishop Reginald Jackson to each of its over 90,000 parishioners in 534 churches across the state.

In a statement, Jackson said: “Governor Kemp and the other racists behind this legislation think we are still living in a different time. They don’t get it. They are out of touch. They do not understand that Georgia and our country have changed. And most of all, now, they are on record as being on the wrong side of history. “

Here’s his letter to parishioners:

It is my prayer that each of you are well and that you have a blessed and fulfilling Holy Week.

I am writing today in regard to Georgia Bill SB 202 which was passed by the Georgia Legislature and signed by Gov. Brian Kemp on March 25th.

SB 202 targets Black and Brown people and will now make it much harder for each of us to vote.

The new law disintegrates the electoral procedure and process that was once developed together, by both Democrats and Republicans. It changes a host of laws that will affect early voting, ballot drop boxes, and absentee voting and it facilitates the ability for Republicans to overturn the will of the people and can change the outcome of an election. More simply put, this new law not only seeks to suppress the votes of Black and Brown people, but it is also racist and seeks to return us to the days of Jim Crow.

Each of us knows deep in our hearts the truth of what is going on because we know our history. White extremists have once again looked to target and marginalize our community. This time, it is for only one reason – Donald Trump lost the 2020 election and did not receive the majority of votes in our state. This new law was based on a lie fabricated by Donald Trump that the only way he could lose was if the election was rigged. Since Republicans were unable to win the election on fair grounds, they are once again looking to change the laws to suit their own purpose, regardless of the facts, the law, or even the moral implications.

What is even more disturbing is that some in the corporate community in Georgia and around the nation have remained silent or even embraced. For example, The Coca-Cola Company has watched silently and done nothing to fight as this bill moved forward to become law. And recently, Delta Airlines wrote an “in house” memo in which they actually praised the law. Silence, inaction, or blind support represents complicity. They are like Paul in the Book of Acts, “I stood there, standing by and consenting.” (Acts 22:20)

This mindset is totally unacceptable. Faith leaders will seek a virtual meeting this week with corporate leaders across the country, as the legislation passed in Georgia is being pushed in more than 40 states. In this meeting, we will explain the consequences of this legislation, why it negatively affects Black and Brown voters, and why corporate leaders should oppose it. If we cannot persuade them or if they refuse to oppose this legislation then we will organize and implement a boycott of their companies. It makes no sense for us to pay our dollars to buy their products and add to their corporate coffers when they refuse to stand with us and support our right to vote without measures to make it more difficult to exercise that right. We do not want to boycott any of these companies, but neither do we or will we “stand by and consent” to racist legislation which seeks to make it more difficult and suppress the right of our people to vote.

What brings us all together is not only our love of God, but the responsibility each of us holds to promote God’s kingdom on earth, to build a fairer and more just world. We have been a powerful community in Georgia regarding equity and access to voting and today I am writing each of our congregants personally to clearly communicate that the fight for equal rights continues. It is our collective mission to peacefully and vigorously fight this new law.

As voters, not to a political party, but to ourselves, our families, our communities, and our values, I know each of you have been watching recent events very closely. Today, I ask each of our congregants, families, and communities to support us if we have to boycott these companies. It will cause inconvenience and sacrifice, but our democracy and rights are on the line. We cannot allow a lie to be rewarded and turn back time to Jim Crow. Again, The Sixth Episcopal District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church is called to lead and be the conscience of the nation. I am sure we are ready to meet this hour.

Let us remain faithful and hopeful and renew in our minds and on our lips the words of the theme song of the Civil Rights Movement, “We shall overcome. Deep in my heart, I do believe, we shall overcome someday.”

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