Why we are concerned about Georgia’s new election law

 |   Brad Smith - President

Just last month, Microsoft shared its decision to invest substantially in Atlanta. As I announced together with Georgia’s Governor and Atlanta’s Mayor, our company is making  significant investments that will put Atlanta “on the path toward becoming one of Microsoft’s largest hubs in the United States in the coming decade, after Puget Sound and Silicon Valley.” We are creating thousands of new jobs, and we are proud to become a rapidly growing member of Atlanta’s important business community.

That’s why we are concerned about many aspects of Georgia’s new “Election Integrity Act.” Two things are clear to us. First, the right to vote is the most cherished aspect of democracy. And second, this new law has important provisions that unfairly restrict the rights of people to vote legally, securely, and safely. That’s why we voiced concern about this legislation even before it was passed.

We are concerned by the law’s impact on communities of color, on every voter, and on our employees and their families. We share the views of other corporate leaders that it’s not only right but essential for the business community to stand together in opposition to the harmful provisions and other similar legislation that may be considered elsewhere.

It’s also important for the business community to be principled, substantive, and concrete in explaining its concerns. Let me share some of the new law’s provisions that we believe will harm individuals’ ability to exercise their right to vote:

Restrictions on Voting Drop Boxes. Georgia’s new law requires that every county have a secure drop box for absentee ballots (which is good) but limits them to only one per 100,000 registered voters (which is terrible). This means that Fulton County, where most of Microsoft’s employees live, likely will see an 80 percent reduction in drop boxes, from 40 during the 2020 election to only about eight moving forward.

From our perspective, there is no rational basis for the Georgia legislature to authorize secure drop boxes but limit their use so severely. Microsoft is headquartered near Seattle in a county and state where secure drop boxes are almost as convenient as a postal service mailbox. We know first-hand that they make voting more convenient and more secure. A sound approach to voting rights should encourage rather than restrict them.

Our concerns about Georgia’s approach to drop boxes are magnified by other provisions. For example, the law makes it harder for voters even to access a drop box after normal business hours. This will make it particularly challenging for people who work multiple jobs or long hours, who face transportation challenges, or who have multiple caregiving responsibilities.

In addition, the use of drop boxes must conclude four days before an election. We live in a country where people can go to outdoor mailboxes to send in their tax returns, absentee ballots, and letters and checks to their loved ones. (Yes, we know that our own email and other internet services have overtaken much of this, but we also appreciate that mailboxes still play an important role.) Can anyone imagine telling taxpayers that they must stop using a mailbox to send in their tax return four days before taxes are due? Why should any state tell its voters that they must stop using a voting drop box four days before election day?

Other Restrictions on Absentee Ballots. While the new law preserves absentee ballots, it imposes new and unnecessary restrictions. For example, the window to request an absentee ballot is narrower, starting 11 weeks before the election and ending 11 days before. This is less than half the 180 day window that existed before.

This also means that the deadline to complete an application for an absentee ballot is moved earlier. Instead of requiring the return of an application by the Friday before election day, the new law moves this to two Fridays before. Yet we’ve all had circumstances where we suddenly need to be away from home. No one gets to call time out on life’s necessities two Fridays before election day. And while people rightly have focused on the impact of this provision on people of color, we’d add its negative impact on employees who sometimes must take unexpected business trips to take care of customers.

Restrictions on Provisional Ballots. It’s also a fact of life that busy people sometimes arrive at the wrong location to vote. That’s why states across the country create provisional ballots so they can be reviewed and then counted if the vote is legal and proper. But the new law makes this more difficult. For example, voters who come to the wrong precinct will not have provisional ballots counted unless they arrive after 5 p.m. and they sign a statement stating they could not make it to the correct poll.

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These are just some of the issues that rightly are attracting attention about the new law. We believe it’s important for companies and business leaders to continue to study the 98-page law more closely, take a substantive approach, and voice our views collectively.

We recognize that some recent criticisms of Georgia’s legislation have proven inaccurate. But already, it’s clear to us that the new law contains important provisions that needlessly and unfairly make it more difficult for people to vote. We hope that companies will come together and make clear that a healthy business requires a healthy community. And a healthy community requires that everyone have the right to vote conveniently, safely, and securely. This new law falls short of the mark, and we should work together to press the Georgia legislature to change it.

And we should all work together to oppose legislation in other states that would undermine the right to vote conveniently, securely, and safely.

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