How Businesses Can Advocate for Voting Rights and Stronger Local Communities
A thriving stakeholder economy requires a healthy democracy that delivers on its promise of representative government. But some elected officials and court decisions in recent years are reducing Americans’ voting rights and poll access, especially for People of Color. With racial equity as one of three pillars in its theory of change, B Lab U.S. & Canada recognizes this challenge and the responsibility of businesses to help protect democracy and take action against injustice.
In the run-up to the U.S. midterm elections this fall, B Lab U.S. & Canada hosted a “Leaders in Conversation” LinkedIn Live event focusing on how businesses can advocate for voting rights and voter access. The event featured Jorge Fontanez, CEO of B Lab U.S. & Canada; Sophia Lin Lakin, Interim Co-Director of the Voting Rights Project, American Civil Liberties Union; and Leslie Proll, Senior Program Director of Voting Rights, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. Keep reading for excerpts from their conversation or watch the recording online.
The conversation examines the federal landscape and what’s happening in states where voting rights are most vulnerable. They also discuss why voting rights are a matter of racial justice in the context of recent threats, including:
- Two Supreme Court rulings in the last decade weakened protections in the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which has served as one of the nation’s most successful civil rights laws. As Proll said, voting rights are foundational because they preserve and protect all other rights.
- More than 400 bills were proposed during 2021 legislative sessions in states across the country, seeking new restrictions on voting — to limit mail-in, absentee, or early ballots — and limits to assistance at the polls for people with disabilities, who speak limited English, or who have other needs.
- Redistricting of Congressional and state legislative districts after the 2020 census. Partisan leaders can use redistricting as an opportunity to change boundaries and divide communities that tend to support candidates from a particular party. The ACLU has filed lawsuits challenging maps in several states.
As a community of businesses pursuing an inclusive stakeholder economy, B Corps are calling for policy change to dismantle unjust systems, policies, and practices. Fontanez said B Corps recognize the importance of getting out the vote and sharing information about voting with communities, employees, and customers. “We will expand the discussion to also focus on how businesses are directly working on policy that either defends or supports voter access,” he said. “We see this as a natural progression and next step for our community as we move toward more collective action.”
How Businesses Can Advocate for Voting Rights
To counter these developments, advocates are calling for stronger voting rights protections through the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which includes provisions to fight discrimination and promote equal justice. Proll said the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights provided informational briefings for numerous companies, including some of the more than 200 organizations that came together to form the Business for Voting Rights coalition. B Corps in the coalition include Beautycounter, Ben & Jerry’s, Burton, Danone North America, Patagonia, Seventh Generation, Stonyfield Organic, and Trillium Asset Management.
“They coalesced around their joint support for the John Lewis Bill, and they let Congress know that they wanted to see the bill passed,” she said. “They were a very welcome and valuable partner to the civil rights organizations that were working to build allegiances across the community.”
While the U.S. House passed the John Lewis Bill in 2021, the U.S. Senate has failed to advance it. But Proll said voting rights advocates continue to build awareness of the need for businesses and other organizations to urge their Senators to support the legislation. “We still need businesses on our side to keep building this,” she said. “Next year we’re going to be pressing for this because we have to. Voting rights are fundamental.”
Business leaders can make a difference by speaking up for voting rights with elected officials in their state, Lakin said, and letting them know how restrictions on voting harm employees, companies, and economies. “Look at what’s going on locally to check for ballot initiatives to expand access in your state or volunteer opportunities to increase ballot access,” she said.
Getting Out The Vote for Stronger Local Communities and Climate Justice
In their communities, companies also can help connect customers and employees with information about upcoming elections so they know what’s on the ballot and can make a plan to vote. Local and state elections for secretary of state or state courts can have a significant impact on communities, Lakin said, but often receive less attention from voters and the media.
The impact of Hurricane Fiona on Puerto Rico is one recent example of how elected officials and policy decisions can affect people’s everyday lives, Lakin said. The island territory’s infrastructure was severely damaged five years ago, and the recent hurricane flooding limited access to clean water.
“If you want to change policy, you have to get involved,” Lakin said. “You have to vote for those policies to ensure climate justice, access to clean energy. … Ensure that you’re knowledgeable about the stances of your elected representatives on the issues. It’s important to educate yourself and vote accordingly.”
Sharing information through communication channels like social media and email is another valuable way businesses can advocate for voting access and voting rights, Proll said. “Encourage them to check their voter registration so they’re ready and able to vote. Things like that are meaningful to groups like us, and your employees and customers,” she said. “It’s important for businesses to keep speaking up in support of democracy in this moment.”
Catch up with these earlier LinkedIn Live conversations:
- How the Financial Industry Is Working to Close the Racial Wealth Gap: With Darrin L. Williams, CEO of Southern Bancorp; Rodney Williams, Co-Founder and President of SoLo Funds; and Morgan Simon, Founding Partner of Candide Group.
- How Employee Ownership Models Help Put People First: With Jack Moriarty, Founder and Executive Director of Ownership America.
Why Businesses Must Protect Voting Access for All Eligible AmericansRead More
How B Corps Are Supporting the Vote: Paid Time Off, Volunteer Time, Election Process Information, and MoreRead More
Impact Strategies to Get Out the Vote and Amplify Your Company’s ValuesRead More
Making Authentic Commitments to Business Climate ActionRead More
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