Opinion

Voting rule debates are not the business of business

Airlines and banks joined the opposition to new voting rules; have you tried flying or banking lately without an ID?

Corporations and their leaders have spoken out on the voting law changes in Georgia and other states. From a corporate governance standpoint, is that a good idea or not?

Before we address that question, let’s stipulate that prior to the Voting Rights Act passed over 50 years ago, many states and localities discriminated against Black voters in several ways. Let us further stipulate that discrimination continues in some places and that some lawmakers, if allowed to do so, would make changes to make voting more difficult, not just more secure.

Recently 72 Black executives were joined by dozens of corporations and hundreds of individuals declaring “We stand for democracy” and decrying in particular the passage of Georgia’s Senate Bill 202, the 95-page Election Integrity Act of 2021. Very few of us would argue that Georgia’s election system couldn’t use revision. And, unlike many if not most of the signers, I’ve read the entire bill. That’s why I’m concerned.

In the original memo signed by the 72 executives, it misrepresents (perhaps unintentionally) two major changes having to do with voter ID and providing food and water to those standing in line. What if, instead of reading the bill, the other hundreds of signers just relied on the words of the memo, or worse, the news media’s reporting? I also researched what experts said about the bill, eliminating both Democrats and Republicans and the media outlets that parrot them. Instead, the BBC fact-checked the bill and that confirmed what I read.

I’m not questioning the intent of the signers. Most everyone wants easy, secure access to the vote; but if what appears to some as either errors or virtue signaling, then surely more analysis is needed. Can we all agree that a voter should be qualified and adequately identified? Airlines and banks signed the memo; have you tried flying or banking lately without an ID? And isn’t voting as important as flying or banking?

Over 90% of the Georgia law had nothing to do with access or ID; instead, it was procedures and processes. Don’t Georgia voters want good written procedures to be followed? And for anyone in Texas who doesn’t think voter fraud is an issue, check out the voter fraud that handed the 1948 Senate race to Lyndon Johnson.

It is also a bit odd that most of the legislation that this group opposes seems to be sponsored by Republicans, whereas there is no mention of the congressional House Bill 1 passed this year with no Republicans voting in support. HB 1 is known as the For the People Act. Wonder if any of the group has read that bill, which could essentially federalize the voting process. And if these business executives are now so politically savvy, why haven’t they taken a position on the bill introduced by progressive House Democrats to increase the Supreme Court by four more justices?

Now to the corporate governance question: Should corporations get involved in this type of political activity? A former American Express chief executive was an originator of the memo. Another former American Express chief executive wrote a Wall Street Journal op-ed saying no. One would hope that the corporations that signed at least got board approval.

Do you think board members all read the 95 pages? And even if they did, do today’s business leaders have the gravitas to command respect for their opinions? Consider this: a Gallup poll from December 2020 on the most respected professions showed three bottom feeders: journalists, business executives, and, you guessed it, politicians.

And take just two of the corporations that signed: Merck and Wells Fargo. Merck has paid fines of $5 billion in the last 20 years. Wells Fargo has paid $4 billion in the last five years. Perhaps cleaning up one’s own shop might be more important, an example of good corporate governance.

Several years ago, I wrote a white paper titled, “Paying our Debt to Posterity.” It was about the increasing federal government debt. I said that corporate executives could solve this problem, but that they probably would not. Unfortunately, I was right.

If these executives really wanted to assure America’s future, then why not focus on the debt. Forty years ago, it was less than $1 trillion, 20 years ago less than $5 trillion, 10 years ago it was $14 trillion and now it is $28 trillion. And this does not include unfunded liabilities. Both political parties, and the voters who elected them, are guilty.

Making voting easier or harder and less or more secure won’t solve the $28 trillion gorilla in the room; moreover, business executives who at least understand its causes have not even tried to solve it.

In 1928 Louis Brandeis, as an associate justice of the Supreme Court and a leading progressive, wrote: “The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well meaning but without understanding.” I could not have said it better myself.

Dennis McCuistion is co-host of the ‘McCuistion’ television program on KERA and a former corporate board member and retired educator on corporate governance.

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Dennis McCuistion

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