Vast Majority Of U.S. Firms Failed To Sign Voting Statement

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Let’s turn to the issue of voting rights and corporate chief executives. A statement organized in recent days by the former CEO of American Express, Kenneth Chenault, and Merck’s chief executive, Kenneth Frazier. A large number of companies signed it. A number of celebrities and activists also signed it.

Then again, too, a large number of companies did not sign it. In some cases, CEOs signed it but didn’t identify their company. When I say a large number, I mean a large number of very big companies. According to reports, it’s a couple of hundred.

Don’t forget, though, that there are a total of 5.6 million companies in America. Most of them are small businesses, not publicly owned corporations. They — not these high-falutin CEOs — are the backbone of this country . And I’m going to respectfully bet you that millions of the 5.6 million American businesses do not agree with these CEOs.

The issue surged with some state legislative changes to Georgia’s voting laws, while a number of other states are proposing voting reforms. In the news reports, I see words like “fair,” “accessable,” “equitable,” “defend the right to vote,” “oppose discriminatory legislation” or “equal and fair opportunity” to cast a ballot.

I don’t know of anybody that would disagree with such sentiments. The CEOs intentionally stayed away from specifics, and acknowledged as much in interviews.

“We are not being prescriptive,” Mr. Chenault told the New York Times. “There is no one answer.”

“These are not political issues,” he said. “These are the issues that we were taught in civics.” Merck’s Mr. Frazier emphasized non-partisanship, saying these are issues we were taught in civics.

Well, those are good ideas but in fact, the issue has become politicized. Regrettably so.

Here’s a word that no one used in interviews or the text of the CEO letter — “legal.” Why don’t they use that word? Because many of the activists are in fact completely opposed to the constitutional right of individual states and their legislatures — not their courts, but their legislatures — to set election laws.

Indeed, the Democratic election reform bill the House recently passed is explicit in federalizing election laws and pre-empting the state legislatures from representing the people’s will. I don’t know if CEOs have thought about this point of state authority under the Constitution. But there you have it.

The New York Times story — written by Andrew Ross Sorkin and David Gelles — referred to the recently passed Georgia law as “a restrictive new voting law in Georgia.” It went on to say that “Georgia was the first state to pass a restrictive new voting law.”

The fact is that while Georgia’s new law requires a person to present some form of voter ID in order to get an absentee ballot, some 36, or three quarters, of the states require some form of voter ID — not necessarily a picture, but some form of ID.

In that context, Georgia is not restrictive.

Look, this is a free country. If CEOs want to drag either themselves or their companies into this fray, it’s up to them. Personally, I think it’s a lousy idea. The Times reports that Walmart’s chief executive, Doug McMillon, chairman of the Business Roundtable, declined to sign the letter and told Walmart employees: ‘We are not in the business of partisan politics.”

The Times noted that the company didn’t sign the statement, but quoted Mr. McMillon as saying “We do want to be clear that we believe broad participation and trust in the election process are vital to its integrity.’

I agree with that. Companies should protect their shareholders and employees and other stakeholders in their communities against bad economic policies coming out of Washington ro state capitols. But opinions about voting laws go into uncharted waters and naturally become more partisan and divisive.

It’s staggering to me that after causing a hullabaloo in attacking the Georgia voting law that led to Major League Baseball pulling its All Star game out of Atlanta and costing the city about $100 million, the CEOs of Coca-Cola and Delta didn’t even sign the statement. So the main trouble makers just punked out. That’s really pathetic.


Adapted from Mr. Kudlow’s broadcast on Fox Business News.

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