Debates over voting rules are not business
Businesses and their leaders have spoken out on electoral law changes in Georgia and other states. From a corporate governance perspective, is this a good idea or not?
Before addressing this issue, let’s be clear that before the Voting Rights Act was passed over 50 years ago, many states and communities discriminated against black voters in a number of ways. It should also be noted that discrimination continues in some places and that some lawmakers, if allowed to do so, would make changes to make voting more difficult, not just more secure.
Recently, 72 black executives were joined by dozens of companies and hundreds of individuals declaring “We defend democracy” and in particular denouncing the passage of Georgian Senate Bill 202, the 95-page law on 2021 electoral integrity. Very few of us would say that Georgia’s electoral system could not use revision. And, unlike most if not most of the signatories, I have read the entire bill. This is why I am worried.
In the original memo signed by the 72 leaders, it distorts (perhaps unintentionally) two major changes related to voter identification and the provision of food and water to those in line. What if, instead of reading the bill, the other hundreds of signatories simply relied on the words of the memo, or worse, the media reports? I also researched what the pundits said about the bill, eliminating both Democrats and Republicans and the media that parrots them. Instead, the BBC checked the bill and it confirmed what I read.
I do not question the intention of the signatories. Almost everyone wants easy and secure access to voting; but if what appears to some to be errors or a signal of virtue, then surely more analysis will be needed. Can we all agree that a voter must be qualified and properly identified? Airlines and banks signed the memo; have you recently tried to steal or bank without ID? And isn’t the vote as important as the theft or the bank?
Over 90% of Georgian law had nothing to do with access or identity document; it was more about procedures and processes. Don’t Georgian voters want good written procedures followed? And for anyone in Texas who doesn’t think voter fraud is a problem, take a look at the voter fraud that transferred the 1948 Senate race to Lyndon Johnson.
It’s also a bit odd that most of the laws this group opposes appear to be sponsored by Republicans, while there is no mention of Congressional Bill 1 passed this year without Republicans voting in. favor. HB 1 is known as the For the People Act. I wonder if any of the members of the group have read this bill, which could essentially federalize the voting process. And if these business leaders are now so politically savvy, why haven’t they taken a stand on the bill introduced by the Progressive House Democrats to increase the Supreme Court by four more justices?
Now on to the question of corporate governance: should companies get involved in this type of political activity? A former CEO of American Express was behind the memo. Another former CEO of American Express wrote a the Wall Street newspaper editorial saying no. One would hope that the companies that signed at least get the approval of the board of directors.
Do you think board members read all 95 pages? And even if they did, do today’s business leaders have the gravity to enforce respect for their opinions? Consider this: A December 2020 Gallup poll of the most respected professions showed three bottom-feeders: journalists, business executives and, you guessed it, politicians.
And take just two of the companies that signed on: Merck and Wells Fargo. Merck has paid $ 5 billion in fines over the past 20 years. Wells Fargo has paid $ 4 billion in the past five years. Perhaps cleaning your own store could be more important, an example of good corporate governance.
Several years ago, I wrote a white paper titled “Paying Our Debt to Posterity”. It was about the growing debt of the federal government. I said business leaders can fix this, but they probably won’t. Unfortunately, I was right.
If these leaders really wanted to secure America’s future, then why not focus on debt. 40 years ago it was less than $ 1 trillion, 20 years ago less than $ 5 trillion, 10 years ago it was $ 14 trillion and now it is $ 28 trillion. And that doesn’t include unfunded liabilities. Both political parties and the voters who elected them are guilty.
Making voting easier or harder and less or safer won’t solve the $ 28 trillion gorilla in the room; moreover, business leaders who understand at least the causes have not even attempted to solve it.
In 1928, Louis Brandeis, as associate judge of the Supreme Court and a great progressive, wrote: “The greatest dangers to freedom lie in the insidious encroachments of zealous, well-meaning but unintelligent men. I couldn’t have said it better myself.
Dennis McCuistion is co-host of the KERA TV show “McCuistion” and a former board member and retired corporate governance educator.
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