Georgia’s new voting law, Senate Bill 202, has received well-deserved backlash from voting rights advocates, politicians, and business executives. By cutting early voting hours, creating new restrictions on absentee voting, and asserting the legislature’s control over elections, the law disproportionately threatens voting access for voters in densely populated areas and voters of color.
The most visible response came from Major League Baseball (MLB). In a decision that drew widespread support, including from President Biden, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred announced that he would move the MLB All-Star Game from Atlanta, Ga. to Denver, Colo. I give MLB, an organization not known for its political statements, credit for taking a stand on Senate Bill 202. As Senior Columnist Julia Chaffers argued last week, MLB has every right to get involved in politics. However, if it truly wanted to stop the attack on voting rights — which is not just limited to Georgia — it should not have relocated.
If MLB’s objective in leaving Georgia was to pressure the legislature and governor into repealing the new voting restrictions, it will most likely fail in achieving this goal. State boycotts by athletic organizations and corporations succeed when the economic costs of a boycott force legislators to reconsider controversial legislation. For example, North Carolina repealed its controversial “bathroom bill” after the NCAA, musicians, and businesses canceled events or reversed plans to expand into the state, decisions that were estimated to cost the state $3.7 billion over 12 years.
However, Georgia’s voting law is fundamentally different from the laws that state boycotts have historically targeted. The law, enacted by a Republican state government almost immediately after narrow Democratic wins in the state, is at its core an attempt to hold onto political power in a state with rapidly changing demographics and politics. While Georgia lawmakers might be concerned about the economic impacts of a boycott, ceding the electoral advantage they created for themselves — and risking being swept out of office — is far worse.
Georgia lawmakers' response to corporate backlash demonstrates this reality. Rather than take responsibility for the potential economic costs of the new law, they have attacked voting rights advocates and corporations that have criticized Senate Bill 202, going as far as voting in one house to revoke Delta’s $35 million jet fuel tax break when the CEO Ed Bastian came out against the law. Governor Brian Kemp, under pressure from members of his own party to crack down on elections after being accused of insufficient loyalty to former President Donald Trump following Trump’s defeat in Georgia last year, accused MLB of caving to pressure from “Stacey Abrams, Joe Biden, and the left” and promised a “fight.” Given this behavior, it seems unlikely that any boycott, at least under the state’s current leadership, will force a reconsideration of the law.
In addition to failing to reverse Georgia’s voting restrictions, MLB’s decision to leave the state will harm the people it intends to help. The departure will cost the state $100 million in lost revenue, according to Holly Quinlan, chief executive of Cobb Travel and Tourism. This will hit the state’s hospitality industry and Metro Atlanta, which is 34 percent Black, the hardest — all during a pandemic that has already disproportionately impacted low-income and minority workers. Governor Kemp has cited these figures to attack voting rights advocates and opponents of the law (neglecting his own responsibility for this harm). However, vocal opponents of the law, including Stacey Abrams and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, have also noted the significant effects that the MLB’s decision will have on vulnerable communities. True, effective advocacy necessitates some pain — Stacey Abrams, who opposes MLB’s decision, recognizes this. However, this pain has to accomplish the advocacy’s goal, and it must be absolutely necessary. MLB’s decision does not meet either of these criteria.
If MLB simply wanted to create awareness about the harms of the Georgia voter legislation by moving the All-Star Game, then they should have just stayed in Georgia, where they could have drawn national attention to the state during the game and used its platform to make a statement against a nationwide attack on voting rights. They could have promoted the work of organizations such as Fair Fight Action that are fighting voter suppression and supported candidates in Georgia who would expand voting access. By leaving Georgia, the MLB relinquished its best opportunity to wield its influence as an athletic organization to support voting rights.
Indeed, now that MLB has taken this stand, I fear they will go silent when their voices are most needed in fights to come. This matters because attacks on voting rights and democracy won’t end with Senate Bill 202. In Texas, the state Senate recently passed a voting bill that is even more restrictive than Georgia’s — and with considerably less public outcry. Later this year, states begin the redistricting process, and states under unified partisan control will likely attempt to draw maps that advantage one political party over the other.
At a time in which voting rights nationwide are under threat, decisions to relocate a baseball game or sign onto statement-making broad commitments to support voting rights are not enough. Unless influential organizations continue to lobby against legislation that threatens voting access or fair representation, cease donations to candidates who support restrictive and retaliatory voting laws like Georgia’s, and — yes — make the occasional statement that risks the ire of elected officials, they’ve chosen to wash their hands of the issues of voting rights and democracy. If these organizations don’t take such actions, then it’s our responsibility, as students and as voters, to pressure them to do so. Nothing less than democracy is at stake.
Allen Liu is a junior from Chattanooga, Tenn. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.