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Tina Casey headshot

The Midterms are Coming: Here’s How to Not Drop the Voting Rights Ball

Leaders professing support for employees on a wide range of problems can prove their sincerity this year with their ongoing commitment to voting rights.
By Tina Casey
Voting Rights

Washington, D.C., June 2022.

Business leaders who profess to support their employees on women’s rights, LGBTQ equality and other critical issues have a chance to prove their sincerity this year, as the all-important midterm elections approach. Even though 2022 is not a presidential election year, the outcome of Election Day and how voting rights prevail could have a significant impact on corporate diversity, equality and inclusion programs -- and not in a good way, if the Republican party gains control of the House and Senate. 

Why the midterms matter 

Many voters appear to believe that the president of the United States can pass legislation with a wave of their pen, but that is not the case. The president can only sign bills into law that have passed Congress – the House of Representatives and the Senate. If the president is to achieve their legislative goals, their party needs to control a working majority in both the House and the Senate.

However, getting Democratic voters to the polls is going to be a challenge, this year more so than others.

According to Pew Research, the mid-term voting drop-off has been a fixture among the U.S. electorate since the 1840s. The balance of power in Congress would not necessarily change just because fewer people vote in the midterms. However, state-based Republican leadership has taken two key steps to ensure that the Democratic party loses its current majority in Congress: suppressing the Democratic-leaning Black vote and other communities of color, and drawing new district maps for the House that exclude Democratic-leaning voters.

In addition, Republican leadership in Congress has taken steps to ensure that the “presidential penalty” is in full force. With the assistance of the 60-vote filibuster threshold and two Democratic Senators (Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema), the Republican minority in Congress has succeeded in blocking major parts of President Biden’s policy agenda. The effort all but ensures that many voters who cast their ballot for Biden in 2020 will be let down by Election Day 2022. They will either not vote at all, or they will vote for other Congressional candidates, not Democratic candidates. 

All is not lost…yet

As of this writing, it appears that state-based efforts to gain a Republican majority in Congress may not have quite the impact that Republicans anticipate.

On redistricting, the Republican Party hoped to gain seats in the House through new state district maps drawn by Republican leadership. However, some analyses show that the Republican Party actually stands to lose seats overall.

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Meanwhile, earlier this week reporter Alex Samuels of the data-driven news organization 538 drew attention to evidence that voter suppression efforts can backfire. 

Unfortunately, business leaders who support the DEI movement cannot take heart from either one of those news items. If Republicans gain a majority in the Senate, they will continue to block the Democratic agenda, regardless of which party controls the House.

More to the point, Samuels throws cold water on the idea that the backfire effect can overcome voter suppression laws.

Citing the example of Georgia’s new voter laws on turnout for the state’s May 24 Primary Election, she wrote:

“It’s important to remember, though, that you can’t out-vote or out-organize voter suppression tactics, and it would be disingenuous to say that the new restrictive laws had no tangible effects on voters since we just don’t know, for instance, how many people didn’t vote or experienced difficulties because of the new law.”

“On top of that, since primary elections tend to draw highly engaged voters, it’s way too soon to draw any conclusions about the effects of these new laws. That means that the real test of these restrictions will likely come in November,” she added. 

More voting rights obstacles to overcome

In fact, business leaders who support DEI need to be more aggressive than ever in turning out the vote in Democratic-leaning communities this November. Redistricting, voter suppression and the “presidential penalty” are not the only tools in the Republican toolkit.

Voting rights stakeholders have also begun to raise alarms over Republican efforts to control the electoral machinery itself. Last January, Matt Vasilogambros of the Pew Charitable Trusts publication Stateline observed:

“The pervasive myths of a stolen 2020 presidential election and widespread voter fraud are still dominant in many state legislatures, as Republican policymakers call for more investigations and reshape election administration in a way that could give them a partisan advantage.”

Citing the example of Georgia, he wrote that “the Republican-led State Election Board could use a new state law to install partisan officials on county election boards in Democratic-leaning areas, giving them the power to decide which ballots to reject or even overturn results.”

Another highly concerning factor is the confluence of gun rights fetishism with the intent to overthrow the results of a legitimate election by force, as amply illustrated by the failed insurrection of January 6. Were it not for tight gun restrictions in Washington D.C., the bloodthirsty mob that attacked Capitol Building that day could have easily outgunned the Capitol Police and carried out its threat to murder Vice President Mike Pence, among others. 

It is no accident that the Republican-appointed, conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court appears inclined to undermine state-based gun restrictions, opening up the potential for more lethal violence at the heart of the legislative process throughout the U.S.

Corporate Action 101: follow the money

If the Republican Party gains control of the Senate in 2022 and beyond, business leaders can look forward to a wave of Congressional actions that amplify and reinforce the Party’s state-based efforts to undermine the corporate DEI movement.

Instead of supporting DEI as a matter of federal policy, Congress is likely to pass bills that pull back LGBTQ rights, impose state and community policing on pregnant people, and suppress Black voters and others who lean Democratic, in addition to relaxing gun regulations and rolling back federal action on climate change and environmental protection.

In short, corporations with DEI programs are in the middle of a nationwide existential fight, which they will lose if they fail to apply every tool in their own toolkits. Corporate leaders need to make clear, beyond any shadow of a doubt, where they stand on support for the democratic process and the rule of law.

A good place to start would be the January 6 Committee hearings, which are scheduled to begin on Thursday, June 9. The Thursday hearing will take place at 8:00 p.m., during television’s influential primetime. Business leaders can and should encourage their employees, and the public at large, to watch the hearing and see with their own eyes the evidence of Republican complicity in an effort to overthrow the democratically elected government of the United States of America, the very nation that styles itself as the upholder of universal democratic principles to the entire world.

To follow up, corporations need to pour more resources into their get-out-the-vote efforts. That doesn’t mean more public service announcements and social media campaigns. That means hardcore financial support, such as providing paid time off to vote on Election Day, time off to participate in the process as a poll worker, and time off to participate as an official poll watcher, as well as providing financial support for voter clinics and legal resources for voters caught up in suppression laws.

Above all, business leaders need to take a good, hard look at their financial support for Republican elected officials and candidates. Many corporations talk a big talk on human rights and civil rights, but they fail to exercise their financial power when Republican candidates and political action committees come calling for campaign contributions.

The time for compromises is over when the Republican Party adopts the position that it is forever entitled to hold office, by force if necessary, regardless of the will of the voting public.

Business leaders should not be lulled into complacency by the redistricting results, the backfire effect, or any other suggestion that the Democratic Party is likely to hold Congress after the midterms. They must be vigilant and press every opportunity to ensure that every eligible voter has access to the ballot box – and that the will of voters determines the final result on Election Day 2022, not administrative partisanship or physical violence.

Image credit: Leon Kaye

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.

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