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Tina Casey headshot

U.S. Business Leaders Confront New Voter Suppression Efforts

By Tina Casey
Voter Suppression

Photo: The Texas State Capitol, where Republican legislators have introduced bills that would restrict access to the ballot box – which amounts to voter suppression, say critics here and in other states where similar legislation is making their way through statehouses nationwide.

Several leading corporations stepped up their get-out-the-vote initiatives last year as one way to show support for the Black Lives Matter movement. However, their efforts were twisted by former President Donald Trump, who dominated the news cycle before and after Election Day with loud and persistent accusations of widespread voter fraud. As a result, the years ahead will be more challenging than ever for corporate supporters of voting rights as voter suppression efforts surge nationwide. An all-hands-on-deck emergency is taking shape, yet it appears that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is encouraging its members to drop the ball.

The Black Lives Matter protests worked

Although some demonstrations associated with the Black Lives Matter movement have turned violent, the movement itself has been overwhelmingly peaceful - and effective.

A new study available on the open-access online library SSRN found that census places with Black Lives Matter protests since 2014 have experienced a 15 percent to 20 percent decrease in police homicides over five years, for a total of approximately 300 fewer deaths nationwide.

The researcher, PhD student Travis Campbell of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, additionally found that the persistence and size of the protests are significant factors in pushing down the number of police homicides.

It is important to note that there is still work to be done. Campbell’s data suggests that part of the decline in police homicides relates to a withdrawal of police presence in certain neighborhoods, leading to an increase in civilian homicide and other crimes.

Nevertheless, the emerging consensus is that the Black Lives Matter protests were effective and resulted in positive outcomes. Campbell’s data strongly indicates that part of the decline in police homicides is the result of improvements in policing, such as the increased use of body cameras and the expansion of diversity hiring.

Evidence like the Campbell study provides corporate supporters of Black Lives Matter with a powerful weapon to push back against backlash from former President Trump, among others.

That weapon will all but certainly be needed this year. Trump is out of office, but the backlash continues largely in the form of voter suppression efforts, making it all the more difficult for corporations to continue voicing support for the Black Lives Matter movement.

Outcomes absolutely matter

Overlaying the Black Rights Matter challenge is the fallout from Trump’s false voter fraud campaign. The campaign peaked on January 6, when 147 Republican members of Congress stalled the Electoral College by raising objections to the vote in several key states.  

By stating their intention to cast spurious objections to the General Election outcome in several key states, these legislators supported former President Trump’s months-long, persistent efforts to gin up accusations of widespread voter fraud, with the intent of overthrowing the election. Evidence is also beginning to suggest that the delay of the vote was coordinated with the organized invasion and occupation of the U.S. Capitol Building.

A number of leading corporations registered their disapproval by withdrawing support from all of the legislators who supported the Trump overthrow, or by pledging to review their donations.

However, the damage was already done. The Republican members of Congress who objected to the Electoral College certification process breathed new life into the Trump voter fraud canard, and now it has rippled into legislation designed to increase voter suppression.

Last month, the Brennan Center for Justice drew a clear connection between Trump’s voter fraud campaign and a fresh torrent of suppressive state legislation.

“As of Feb. 19, 2021, legislators in 43 states have carried over, prefiled, or introduced more than 250 bills that would make it harder to vote — over seven times the number of restrictive bills as compared to roughly this time last year,” the Brennan Center wrote.  “These bills primarily seek to limit mail voting and impose stricter voter ID requirements.”

What were they thinking?

In this context, the new Chamber of Commerce statement is weak tea indeed. In a public memo posted late last Friday afternoon, the Chamber appears to advise its members that it is all right to continue contributing to Republican legislators who objected to the Electoral College, as long as they did not participate in other actions leading to the failed insurrection.

In effect, the Chamber statement compartmentalizes the issue of voter suppression and peels it away from the Electoral College objectors, as if it is entirely irrelevant. They shunt the objectors into the vacuum of the moment, without considering their role in amplifying and legitimizing the months-long voter fraud campaign leading up to January 6.

Rather than describing the objectors as part and parcel of an unprecedented attempt to overthrow a presidential election, the Chamber describes them simply as “those who voted no on the question of certifying the votes of certain states.”

“We do not believe it is appropriate to judge members of Congress solely based on their votes on the electoral certification,” the Chamber emphasizes a second time.

The Chamber repeats its narrow focus for a third time, arguing that “casting a vote is different than organizing the rally of January 6th or continuing to push debunked conspiracy theories.”

Given the hundreds of state-based voter suppression bills in circulation, clearly the Chamber is making is a distinction without a difference.

What the Chamber describes as “casting a vote” is now widely recognized as a coordinated action that supported and abetted a violent insurrection, wittingly or not. The act of objecting itself was an affirmation of the very conspiracy theories that the Chamber claims to have been debunked, and the shapeless “rally” that the Chamber refers to has been revealed as a violent, intentional invasion of the Capitol Building that almost succeeded.

The real work fighting voter suppression is just beginning

The Chamber’s statement does appear to put the objectors - and other legislators - on notice that they will have to earn its support. Among other points, the Chamber specifies that its focus will be on elected officials who take steps to “support our system of government.”

“We want to encourage, including through our support, members who reach across the aisle, who reinforce critical norms, and who do the hard work of governing,” the Chamber concludes.

However, given that the voter suppression movement has already gathered steam in statehouses, now is not the time to absolve the objectors in Congress from their responsibility for re-energizing and perpetuating the very same voter fraud lie that underpins state-based voter suppression bills.

Instead, the Chamber and its members should be working to expose the connection between the failed insurrection and a nationwide effort to suppress Black voters and other underrepresented communities.

Business leaders may have assumed that supporting the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020 would enable them to rest on their laurels this year. The re-energized voter suppression movement makes it clear that the real work is only just beginning.

In another sign that corporate support for Black Lives Matter will be tested anew this year, bills aimed at discouraging protestors are already in the pipeline in more than two dozen states.

The bills appear to be politically neutral on face, but advocates anticipate that differential policing will result in over-incarceration and over-charging of Black Lives Matter protestors. Differential treatment of Black and white protestors over the past several years bears out that concern, from the Malheur takeover of 2016 on up to the failure to meet the January 6 insurrection in force.

Last summer, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce demonstrated its support for the Black Lives Matter movement by preserving and exhibiting protest signs and other artwork. That gesture will ring hollow unless the Chamber stops shielding the Electoral objectors in a veneer of respectability and encourages its members to keep up the pressure against voter suppression.

Image credit: Kim Broomhall/Pixabay

Tina Casey headshot

Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes.

Read more stories by Tina Casey