In the runup to the 2020 election, many companies showed that they understand the importance of political participation and are willing to act in its defense. Businesses supported democracy by giving their employees time off to vote and volunteer at the polls. Now that free and fair elections are under unprecedented attack in statehouses across America, the country needs companies to stay in the fight to protect our electoral system and the rights of the employees and customers businesses depend on.
The stakes of election reform have not been this high in generations. States are poised to enact the largest contraction of ballot access since Jim Crow curtailed the voting rights of formerly enslaved — and newly enfranchised — Black men. Even if voters could “out-organize” barriers, as some of President Biden’s supporters have argued, bad actors are also proposing laws that would empower legislatures to overturn elections outright if they disagree with the voters’ choice.
All of our democratic institutions are in danger.
Courts are being targeted for their role in protecting the 2020 election with legislation shrinking the ability of the judiciary to review election cases and uphold voter rights. Election officials, scapegoated for election outcomes that some politicians and voters did not like, have fled their homes after threats to their lives. And we know these threats are not idle: the Big Lie of a stolen election motivated a violent mob to storm the halls of Congress and disrupt our nation’s tradition of transferring power peacefully, resulting in five deaths.
The attack on the Capitol and the current state legislative assault on political participation are part of the same antidemocratic movement. And, like the January 6 insurrection, this coordinated surge in voter suppression and election administration interference is based on a lie. Widespread voter fraud simply does not exist.
Time and time again, government agencies, courts, and academics have looked for instances of voter fraud impacting election outcomes and have never found it. Yet Republican lawmakers at every level of government are relying on the phantom of voter fraud to promote policies that would disenfranchise countless legitimate voters and threaten the existence of democratic governance. These harmful proofless policies incur a steep cost for no discernible benefit.
Everyone must take action to beat back and defeat this undemocratic movement. Corporate leaders have a responsibility to the people of all political affiliations who drive the economy, work at their companies, and patronize their businesses to reject baseless measures that thwart the will of the people.
Corporate engagement to strengthen democracy also makes sense for the bottom line. Polling shows that voters across partisan lines are in widespread agreement that companies should support Americans’ voting rights and that they would reward businesses that take a stand. A remarkable 82 percent of Americans — including more than 7 in 10 Republicans — reported that they would be more favorable to a company if they supported policies to make it easier for Americans to vote and register to vote. A separate survey found that 76 percent of people were more likely to want to work for a company that promoted democracy, while 81 percent were more likely to buy that company’s products or services and recommend it to their friends or family.
Business leaders also have a strong strategic interest in ensuring that all eligible voters can participate in elections and that the outcomes of those elections reflect the choices of the people. Corporate America and the U.S. economy directly benefit from the stability of American democracy. Conversely, they are directly threatened when democracy is destabilized.
To protect our democracy, corporate America should support and promote the For the People Act and the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act (VRAA). These bills are the best way to stop voter discrimination and suppression in their tracks. They would work in tandem to set national standards for elections, including halting discriminatory laws being passed right now, and prevent new discriminatory policies from being implemented. As the Supreme Court has cut off many legal avenues to protect free and fair elections, it’s up to Congress to pass new laws.
Corporations seeking to support democracy should also put their money where their mouth is. Any financial contributions to lawmakers who oppose the For the People Act or the VRAA — or otherwise promote antidemocratic legislation — must end. Instead, when businesses make political donations, they should only give money to candidates, elected officials, and organizations that uphold free and fair elections. They can also use their influential networks to contact and make the case directly to elected officials.
Taking these steps to support democracy will also support business. A stable democracy is the bedrock on which American industry was built. And without a multiracial representative democracy, the U.S. economy will fail to reach its full potential, making us all poorer — politically as well as economically. Businesses should invest in our democracy. Corporate leaders can protect their interests and the public interest alike by supporting the For the People Act and the VRAA.