On Friday, Major League Baseball announced it would move the 2021 All-Star Game and the MLB draft out of Atlanta in response to Georgia’s restrictive new voting law, which was signed by Gov. Brian Kemp last week.
The league’s decision comes as corporate America begins to take notice of the Georgia bill and others like it — and to push back on voter suppression around the country.
Since the law was passed, several companies, including Delta Air Lines, Coca-Cola, and Microsoft, have released statements condemning the bill, which makes it harder for Georgians to vote by mail and shifts control over election rules to the state legislature, among other changes.
The law, which University of Georgia political scientist Cas Mudde described as “anti-democratic” in an interview with Vox, gives Georgia’s Republican legislature majority control of the State Election Board, makes it illegal to give food or water to anyone waiting in line to vote, and imposes new voter ID requirements on mail-in voting.
As Vox’s Zack Beauchamp explains, the combined effect of those changes is to “create barriers to voting” — and those changes are likely to affect low-income and minority voters the most.
“I have decided that the best way to demonstrate our values as a sport is by relocating this year’s All-Star Game and MLB Draft,” league commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement Friday. “Major League Baseball fundamentally supports voting rights for all Americans and opposes restrictions to the ballot box.”
Full statement from MLB commissioner Rob Manfred pic.twitter.com/oFY1omorpN— Jordan McPherson (@J_McPherson1126) April 2, 2021
The move isn’t unprecedented in American sports — previously, both the NFL and the NBA have moved major events in response to bills passed or not passed by host states — but the loss of the MLB All-Star Game, scheduled for July, is by far the biggest blow yet to Georgia following the bill’s passage.
A new venue for the MLB All-Star Game and the draft have not been announced as of Saturday.
Republican lawmakers are decrying the move
The league’s decision has already sparked a torrent of both condemnation and support, with Kemp, a Republican, accusing MLB of having “caved to fear, political opportunism, and liberal lies.”
Both of Georgia’s newly minted Democratic senators, meanwhile, focused on the bill itself in their responses, framing the MLB decision as an “unfortunate consequence” of Republican voting restrictions.
“The Governor and the legislature are deliberately making it harder for Black voters to vote,” Sen. Jon Ossoff said Friday. “They know it. Everybody knows it, and this egregious and immoral assault on voting rights has also put our state’s economy at grave risk.”
Earlier this week, President Joe Biden told ESPN that he would “strongly support” the decision to move the All-Star Game out of Georgia, though some activists and politicians in the state, including onetime Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, a Democrat, have opposed boycotts.
“I respect boycotts,” Abrams said in a statement Friday, “although I don’t want to see Georgia families hurt by lost events and jobs. ... We should not abandon victims of GOP malice and lies — we must stand together.”
The MLB decision has also led to some very public courting of the now venue-less All-Star Game by politicians on Twitter.
“Hey @MLB here in Baltimore we strongly support voting rights as do our beloved @orioles,” Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott tweeted Friday. “We’d love to host the All Star game at Oriole Park at Camden Yards the ballpark that inspired them all.”
Hey @MLB here in Baltimore we strongly support voting rights as do our beloved @orioles. We'd love to host the All Star game at Oriole Park at Camden Yards the ballpark that inspired them all. Remember how great it was the last time? https://t.co/yYD8sbodyV https://t.co/nSkXRGRNGc— Brandon M. Scott (@MayorBMScott) April 2, 2021
Some Republicans have gone beyond simple condemnation to threaten retaliation against the league for pulling the All-Star Game out of Georgia.
In a statement Friday, former President Donald Trump called for supporters to “boycott baseball and all of the woke companies,” while Rep. Jeff Duncan, a South Carolina Republican, said Friday he would seek to end baseball’s federal antitrust exception, which protects the league from antitrust laws used to ensure fair competition.
The former president of the United States is now urging a boycott of our national pastime. pic.twitter.com/sunb82hYOf— Ben Jacobs (@Bencjacobs) April 3, 2021
Corporations are taking note of voter suppression efforts in other states, too
In Georgia, where SB 202 is already law, the wave of corporate pushback to new voter restrictions may have come too late to change the outcome (though there is precedent for states rolling back unpopular laws in response to corporate pressure).
Elsewhere, however — most notably in Texas — companies are making their stances known before new voter restrictions are signed into law. At least two Texas-based companies, American Airlines and Dell Technologies, have come out explicitly against a Texas bill, SB 7, that would limit early and absentee voting, among other changes.
“To make American’s stance clear: We are strongly opposed to this bill and others like it,” American said in a statement Thursday after the bill was advanced by the Texas Senate. “As a Texas-based business, we must stand up for the rights of our team members and customers who call Texas home, and honor the sacrifices made by generations of Americans to protect and expand the right to vote.”
According to the Texas Tribune, AT&T and Southwest Airlines, which are also based in Texas, reiterated their support for voting rights Friday, though neither mentioned SB 7 by name.
As the Texas bill moves on to the state House, it’s unclear if that opposition will mean anything, but the corporate response in Georgia could make a difference in how legislators see things.
“Major Texas employers are stepping up and speaking out against voter suppression, and for good reason,” former Texas House Speaker Joe Straus tweeted Thursday. “Texas should not go down the same path as Georgia. It’s bad for business and, more importantly, it’s bad for our citizens.”
Pushback by corporate America in Georgia and Texas could also make a difference nationally: New voter suppression bills have been introduced in nearly every state in the country in the wake of the 2020 presidential election.
According to the Brennan Center for Justice, at least 361 restrictive new bills have been introduced in 47 states as of March 24, with Texas, Georgia, and Arizona leading the field in number of bills.
Not all of these bills are equally damaging. Historically, both parties benefit from mail-in voting in non-pandemic conditions; restricting it, while clearly undemocratic, might not help Republicans too much in the 2022 midterms. The evidence on the impact of voter ID laws on turnout is somewhat mixed.
But the parts of the Georgia bill mostly likely to affect election outcomes — the partisan power grab over actual electoral administration — are far from unique.
“What we are seeing in Georgia is democratic backsliding, American-style,” Beauchamp writes. “And it won’t be the last attempt we’ll see.”
Big business, however, is taking note. In a statement released Friday and shared on Twitter by Judd Legum, who writes the Popular Information newsletter, more than 100 companies joined a Civic Alliance statement condemning new voter suppression efforts around the country.
UPDATE— Judd Legum (@JuddLegum) April 2, 2021
A large coalition of companies -- including @DowNewsroom, @Twitter, @HP, @MLB, @PayPal, @Uber and many others -- just released a statement opposing "hundreds of bills threatening to make voting more difficult in dozens of states nationwide."https://t.co/WGroEtRdFa pic.twitter.com/ESAEXbwCxT
“Our elections are not improved when lawmakers impose barriers that result in longer lines at the polls or that reduce access to secure ballot dropboxes,” reads the statement. “We call on elected leaders in every state capitol and in Congress to work across the aisle and ensure that every eligible American has the freedom to easily cast their ballot and participate fully in our democracy.”