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Matter of integrity

The Senate Bill 202 or the US state of Georgia's new voting bill has set off a major political quake through the nation. As may be remembered, Georgia was a particularly contentious battleground state during the 2020 US elections which ended with a recount and Republicans losing three crucial elections in one go. Now, this was understandably a hard loss for Republicans and Trump as Georgia had reliably been a conservative state for two decades. Biden winning the state and both its Senate seats was enough to convince the Georgia GOP majority that there was a need to act. Pushing through this partisan bill with the strength of their majority, the new voting bill was made into law. The Republicans say that the new laws will help restore the integrity of the US electoral process at a time when the recent elections apparently called them into doubt. The Democrats assert the voting laws are among the most restrictive in America and seriously limit voting access, particularly to minorities. In terms of publicity for this 'historic' bill, the Georgia Republicans have gotten off to a rough start. Georgia Governor Brian Kemp signed the bill into law under a painting of a plantation, a long reviled symbol of American slavery. Then some provisions in the bill admittedly looked worse than they actually are. Consider the much-publicised part of the bill which makes it a felony for anyone to offer "money or gifts" including "food and drink" to voters standing in line at a polling booth. Biden and the Democrats have attacked this part of the bill as senseless and cruel as it denies people from being given food and water as they stand in long lines. This sounds bad, as does any law that restricts someone from giving anyone else water. But it should be noted in a sense of fairness that the bill actually allows for poll officers to make available "self-service water" at these booths for those waiting in line. This makes the whole part of the law more arbitrary than it is actually cruel. It also draws attention from the actually concerning part of the new laws such as legislation that will allow the state legislator to have the power to remove county voting officials if a majority of a new dedicated board decides that these officials have done a 'poor' job. This is important to note because the state legislature in Georgia has been under Republican control since 2005. As many news organisations and observers have noted, this is a significant problem for the handful of Democratic counties in Georgia like Fulton County which has been a long time target of Georgia Republicans. There is much more but the bill is a bit too massive for detailed investigation here. The interesting bit that we will focus on however is how traditionally non-political actors are behaving in response to the new voting laws. Many significant American companies such as Coco-Cola and Microsoft have issued statements condemning the new voting laws in no uncertain terms. Major League Baseball, one of America's biggest sporting bodies went several steps further. MLB recently announced that it would pull its planned 2021 All-Star Game and Draft out of Georgia in protests of these new laws. To say this is large is a bit of an understatement. MLB events like these are big-ticket events that bring both jobs and money to the city and state that host them. Coming at a delicate time in the American economic revival, it is understandable to see why some even on the Democratic side see this as a step too far. They argue that such a move is unlikely to pressure State Republicans but is certain to hurt everyday Georgians. Coming after the Democrats managed a narrow victory in the state in 2021, this may not be the best message to send considering Joe Biden did more or less 'advise' or 'support' MLB to pull-out on television. But what is worth noting is that there is now an increased need amongst many voters, especially young ones, for companies to now start getting political. Since you no longer buy a product but a brand, it has become important for this brand to somehow fall in sync with your belief, including political belief. This was demonstrated last year at the BLM protests as well and is likely a growing pattern. Republicans across the nations are looking to push similar bills into law. Texas is already set to be the next stage in this long-running battle. How much further will corporate America go in their attempt to take a stand? Of course, some question whether they should even be taking a stand. Recent polls have shown that an increased number of Republican voters are more tired now of having sports and politics mix than they were five years ago. But those were different, less divided times. Can anyone afford to fence sit in modern America now?

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