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Analysis

Businesses Should Invest in Our Democracy

Corporate leaders have a responsibility to their employees and customers to use company resources to fight efforts to suppress the vote and undermine elections.

September 13, 2021

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.