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Texas-based companies speak out against restrictive voting bills: 'Voting is a sacred right'

Max Zahn and Melody Hahm
·6-min read
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The confrontation over voting rights between business leaders and political officials is far from over, after Delta (DAL) and Coca-Cola (KO) condemned a controversial Georgia voting law last week amid intense public pressure.

Dozens of CEOs from major companies like Pepsi (PEP) and PayPal (PYPL) met on Zoom over the weekend to consider further action against restrictive voting bills introduced in state legislatures nationwide, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Meanwhile in Texas, a pair of restrictive voting bills making their way through the legislature put companies in an urgent position over whether to speak out. The corporate uproar over voting rights and ballot access last week was set off by a voting measure in Georgia that critics say disenfranchises Black voters — but only after it became law. In Texas, companies could potentially alter or even stop the legislation.

But most of the state’s largest companies — with the exception of American Airlines (AAL) and Dell (DELL) — passed up the opportunity to criticize the restrictive voting bills in response to an inquiry from Yahoo Finance. When Yahoo Finance contacted more than 30 organizations in Texas about the bills, some top businesses like Exxon Mobil (XOM), Southwest Airlines (LUV), and Bumble (BMBL) affirmed their general support for equal and wide access to the ballot box, while many others declined to comment or did not respond.

The companies that declined to comment include Sysco (SYY), Halliburton (HAL), the Houston Rockets, and the Dallas Mavericks.

Companies in Texas face competing interests as they weigh whether to take public positions on the state’s voting bills. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican who supports the bills, made headlines last week after declining an invitation to throw out the first pitch at the Texas Rangers home opener, citing Major League Baseball’s decision to move its All-Star game out of Georgia in protest of the state’s restrictive voting law.

The Georgia law includes a slew of measures that could make it harder to vote, including reduced access to ballot drop boxes, a ban on mobile voting centers, and making it a misdemeanor to offer food and water to voters in line.

The two restrictive voting bills under consideration in Texas — House Bill 6 and Senate Bill 7 — would outlaw 24-hour voting and prohibit local election officials from pro-actively sending mail-in ballot applications to voters, even if they qualify.

Deirdre Barrett wears a protective mask as she waits in line to cast her ballot for the upcoming presidential election as early voting begins in Houston, Texas, U.S., October 13, 2020.  REUTERS/Go Nakamura     TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Deirdre Barrett wears a protective mask as she waits in line to cast her ballot for the upcoming presidential election as early voting begins in Houston, Texas, U.S., October 13, 2020. REUTERS/Go Nakamura TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

Critics call the bills discriminatory, since people of color disproportionately use the voting methods at issue, most notably in Harris County, a fast-growing county that includes Houston. Proponents say the bills do not intend to discriminate but aim to ensure secure elections.

SB7 passed the Texas senate earlier this month, and HB6 advanced out of a House committee last week. The laws underway in Georgia and Texas are merely a handful of 361 proposed bills with restrictive provisions across 47 states, according to an April 1 report from the Brennan Center for Justice.

'Any legislation must [make] it easier to vote, not harder'

Among the companies that have commented on the proposed voting laws, American Airlines and Dell have been the most explicit about their lack of support.

“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. Voting is the hallmark of our democracy, and is the foundation of our great country. We value the democratic process and believe every eligible American should be allowed to exercise their right to vote, no matter which political party or candidate they support,” American Airlines said in a blog post earlier this month.

“Any legislation dealing with how elections are conducted must ensure ballot integrity and security while making it easier to vote, not harder. At American, we believe we should break down barriers to diversity, equity and inclusion in our society — not create them,” the airline added.

A sign to remind voters on social distancing is placed on a floor as person sits on a portable chair while waiting in line to cast his ballot for the upcoming presidential election as early voting begins in Houston, Texas, U.S., October 13, 2020.  REUTERS/Go Nakamura
A sign to remind voters on social distancing is placed on a floor as person sits on a portable chair while waiting in line to cast his ballot for the upcoming presidential election as early voting begins in Houston, Texas, U.S., October 13, 2020. REUTERS/Go Nakamura

“The right to free, fair and equitable access to voting is a foundation of American democracy. Achieving those rights — especially for women and communities of color — has been hard earned,” Dell told Yahoo Finance in a statement. “Instead of seeking to limit access, governments should provide innovative pathways for citizens to have their voices heard. Legislation, like HB6, does the opposite, and we are opposed to it.”

In stark contrast, Schlumberger (SLB) declined to take a stance, stating it remains “politically neutral” as per its “long standing policy.” The world’s largest oil-field services company is an outlier among the companies that shared public comment.

AT&T (T), according to reporting from ABC, is taking a “broader look at the complexity of elections, the responsibility of lawmakers, and a broader 'responsibility to engage.'”

Other Texas-based firms advocated for equal access to voting, but used more nuanced language, and did not address any legislation specifically.

In a statement to Yahoo Finance, Southwest Airlines said “the right to vote is foundational to our democracy and a right coveted by all. We believe every voter should have a fair opportunity to let their voice be heard. This right is essential to our nation’s success.”

Oil and gas behemoth Exxon echoed a similar sentiment. “With respect to the current debate on election laws, we urge our political leadership to find resolutions that provide equitable and broad access for all Americans – regardless of race, gender, politics, or economic status — while ensuring the integrity of the election process.”

Dating app Bumble “supports a healthy and vibrant democracy that will continue to allow companies like ours to grow and thrive. As such, we believe that voting should be easily accessible for every eligible American, and we haven’t ruled out signing on to a broader industry statement reinforcing this position,” according to a company spokesperson.

And the chief executive of the country’s largest drug distributor McKesson (MCK) shared a post on his personal Instagram. In part, Brian Tyler wrote: “The efforts of our parents and grandparents to secure voting rights for women and people of color are some of the proudest moments in our country’s history. We are committed to that important legacy and oppose any legislative efforts in the states that would impede or compromise the ability for anyone to cast a vote. At McKesson, we believe that voting is a sacred right and responsibility, one that should be exercised freely and enfranchised widely.”

Yahoo Finance will continue to update this piece as more companies respond to requests for comment.

Max Zahn is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. Find him on Twitter @MaxZahn.

Melody Hahm is Yahoo Finance’s West Coast correspondent. Follow her on Twitter @melodyhahm.

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