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Backlash grows against Georgia voting rights law

Georgia lawmakers are on defense as prominent companies and business executives have come out in opposition to legislation signed into law by Gov. Brian KempBrian KempGeorgia, South Carolina governors sign bills to pay college athletes Poll shows tight GOP primary for Georgia governor Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signs election restriction bill MORE (R) that has been criticized as an effort to stifle minority voters.

Georgia-based Coca-Cola and Delta on Wednesday joined a growing number of corporations this week criticizing the omnibus bill, S.B. 202.

Coca-Cola CEO James Quincey called the new measures "unacceptable" and “a step backwards,” while Delta CEO Ed Bastian said the bill “includes provisions that will make it harder for many underrepresented voters, particularly Black voters, to exercise their constitutional right to elect their representatives.”

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Chuck Clay, a former GOP Georgia lawmaker and current political strategist, said the backlash from corporations could have the potential to damage Republicans.

Peach State-based businesses are saying “we create Georgia, we're the biggest employers here and we're not satisfied,” Clay told The Hill. “Do you want that? No. Does it hurt? Yes. Does it have a long-term impact? That’s to be seen.”

Kemp for his part has defended the legislation.

“I’m glad to deal with it,” the governor said of the corporate backlash while appearing on CNBC's “Closing Bell.” “If they want to have a debate about the merits and the facts of the bill, then we should do that.”

The criticism from top executives comes as activists and Democratic lawmakers have put pressure on Georgia-linked corporations to take a more aggressive stance against the legislation, which the state’s General Assembly passed in a party-line vote last Thursday.

Stacey Abrams, a Democratic rising star who nearly defeated Kemp in Georgia's 2018 gubernatorial race, described companies’ initial responses to the bill as “mealy-mouthed,” while adding that it wasn’t “yet” time to boycott any business or firm.

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Dozens of Black executives, spearheaded by former American Express CEO Kenneth Chenault and Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier, also recently signed a letter decrying the new law.

Some GOP strategists are skeptical that the corporate pressure will deter Republicans who are supportive of the bill.

“I think it's performative, I think we're going to be moved on to something else by next year,” strategist Jay Williams said.

Ford O’Connell, another GOP strategist, added: “Corporations are going to realize that they shouldn't have caved to the pressure the Democrats are putting on them in the media.”

The battle over the legislation comes as both parties gear up for the 2022 midterm elections, when Republicans will aim to retake control of Congress after losing both of their Senate seats in special runoff elections in Georgia in January. One of those first-term Democrats, Sen. Raphael WarnockRaphael WarnockAlabama museum unveils restored Greyhound bus for Freedom Rides' 60th anniversary The Hill's Morning Report - Biden launches blitz for jobs plan with 'thank you, Georgia' Biden marks 100th day plugging jobs plan in Georgia MORE (D-Ga.), is among those up for reelection.

President BidenJoe BidenAtlanta mayor won't run for reelection South Carolina governor to end pandemic unemployment benefits in June Airplane pollution set to soar with post-pandemic travel boom MORE has also stepped into the fray, calling the Georgia law “Jim Crow on steroids” in an ESPN interview Wednesday.

The president also said he would support MLB moving its All-Star Game — currently scheduled to be played in Atlanta this summer — out of Georgia in response to the law.

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said he had discussed the possibility of moving the game with Tony Clark, president of the Major League Baseball Players Association, but didn’t elaborate on when the league would make a decision.

Abrams and other activists have also compared the Georgia law to Jim Crow laws, which racially discriminated against and intimidated Black Americans, largely keeping them from voting.

Democrats have in particular highlighted the Georgia law’s restriction on groups not being able to give out items, including food and drink, within 150 feet of polling places.

Prominent groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights and New Georgia Project, have filed lawsuits against the new measures.

“What they're saying is that there's both sides to this story, and it's not,” Nsé Ufot, CEO of the New Georgia Project, told The Hill a week before the bill became law. “We have to formally, forcefully and vocally reject the politics of white nationalism.”

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Some Democrats have been accused of spreading misinformation about the law.

The Washington Post gave Biden “4 Pinocchios” on Monday after he said that S.B. 202 “ends voting hours early.”

While the bill does mandate poll hours be from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., it allows polling places the choice to expand hours from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

The law also minimizes the period in which a Georgia resident can apply for a mail-in ballot. However, it makes mandatory an additional Saturday during the early voting period for polls to be open and makes Sunday poll hours optional.

Democrats have criticized the bill for its limit on drop boxes — one for every 100,000 active voters or one per early voting site — and the fact that they will be kept inside early voting places and won’t be accessible when the site isn’t open. Additionally, Georgians will be unable to use the drop boxes once early voting ends, the Friday before Election Day, which could lead to mailed ballots not arriving in time.

Other controversial aspects of the bill include new photo ID requirements for absentee voting and the restructuring of the state’s election board. To apply for an absentee ballot, Georgia voters must now show proof of driver’s license, state-issued ID or the last four digits of their social security number if they lack an ID.

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Previously, Georgians only needed to provide a signature that matched with what was on record.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that when Kemp signed the bill into law, more than 200,000 Georgia voters didn't have a driver’s license or state ID.

A 2006 study from the Brennan Center for Justice showed that up to 1 in 4 Black Americans lacked government-issued ID, more than twice the overall rate.

The legislation also strips Georgia’s secretary of state from chairing the state election board. The chair will now be selected by the state legislature, and since each chamber of the body elects one member to the five-person panel, the board will now be tilted in favor of whichever party has control of the chambers. Republicans currently control both.

Clay, the GOP strategist, noted that some of the animosity toward the bill could stem from the national attention on several more-severe proposed provisions — the elimination of no-excuse early voting and no early voting on Sundays, for example.

“There were other bills having to do with elections that I think would have potentially fit much more into that category,” Clay said. “They [appeared] to be more partisan, they were certainly more restrictive, but they didn't pass.”