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Here's what the 30 Dow industrials companies are saying about new voting restrictions

Jacob Passy

More than a quarter of the constituent companies of the Dow Jones Industrial Average signed on to a statement opposing the imposition of new voting restrictions

Corporate America is facing pressure to take a stand against bills being advanced in many state legislatures that civil-rights activists have argued will make it harder for many people to vote.

Last month, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed into law (link) legislation overhauling how elections operate in the state. Among the changes made by the sweeping, Republican-sponsored package are restrictions on voting by mail and giving the state's legislature greater control over voting, including a new capacity to deem county election operations underperforming and claw back local administration.

The legislation also weakens the secretary of state's role in election administration. The current occupant of that office, Republican Brad Raffensperger, drew the ire of then-President Donald Trump and allies for defending the integrity of the 2020 election (link), including in a phone call where Trump suggested that Raffensperger should be able to "find 11,780 votes," (link) sufficient to overcome President Joe Biden's winning margin in the state.

Georgia isn't the only state where Republican lawmakers have pursued such changes -- others include Texas and Arizona. But the Peach State's new law has sparked a significant outcry from voting-rights activists and civil-rights organizations. Calls for boycotts have led sports leagues (link) and film productions (link) to move business out of Georgia.

Top Atlanta employers Delta and Coca-Cola put out strongly worded statements in defense of voting rights (link) but not till after Kemp had signed the bill into law.

On Wednesday, hundreds of major U.S. companies, executives and other notables signed a statement (link) that opposed laws restricting voter rights. The statement ran as a two-page ad in multiple major papers under the heading, "We stand for democracy."

"Voting is the lifeblood of our democracy and we call upon all Americans to join us in taking a nonpartisan stand for this most basic and fundamental right of all Americans," the statement read in part.

The statement was led by former American Express (AXP) Chief Executive Ken Chenault and Merck (MRK) CEO Ken Frazier. Among the signatories were nine of the 30 companies included in the Dow Jones Industrial Average. In addition to Amex and Merck, Apple Inc. (AAPL), Cisco Systems (CSCO), Goldman Sachs (GS), IBM (IBM), Johnson & Johnson (JNJ), Microsoft (MSFT) and Salesforce (CRM) signed the open letter.

Previously, the Business Roundtable released a statement (link) arguing that "state laws must safeguard and guarantee the right to vote." The Business Roundtable also called for "bipartisan efforts to provide greater access to voting and encourage broad voter participation."

MarketWatch asked the 30 companies that make up the current Dow Jones Industrial Average why they did or did not choose to sign the statement and about their stances on voting rights.

Here's what they said:

Caterpillar (CAT) did not comment on why the company did not sign the open letter. A spokeswoman for the company directed MarketWatch to a statement on the company's website reflecting on its history of voter advocacy. "We support equal access and opportunity for all eligible voters to participate in the election process," the statement reads in part.

Chevron (CVX) did not comment on its choice not to participate in the public letter. In a statement, a company spokesperson noted that Chevron offers paid time off for its employees to vote. "We believe any changes to state laws should aim to ensure fairness, openness and integrity in the election process and make it easy for a citizen to cast his or her vote," the company said. "Ultimately, it is the role of governments and elected officials to transparently resolve issues such as these with the participation of civil society."

Cisco Systems did not provide additional comment as to its decision to sign on to the open letter. However, Cisco CEO and Chairman Chuck Robbins previously said (link) on Twitter that "governments should be working to make it easier to vote, not hard." He argued that protecting voting rights is "an issue of right and wrong."

Coca-Cola (KO), having previously denounced Georgia's new voting law, said it had not seen the open letter, which was initiated by the Black Economic Alliance, but noted that the company was "open to hearing their perspective." The company added it is focused on "meeting and collaborating with local groups."

Dow Inc.(DOW) did not say why it didn't sign the letter. But the company noted that it supported the positions put forward by the Business Roundtable and the Civic Alliance. "We believe the right to vote is essential to a strong democracy and must be protected," a spokesperson said. Dow offers paid time off to employees for voting.

Home Depot(HD) told MarketWatch that it has "decided that the most appropriate approach for us to take is to continue to underscore our statement that all elections should be accessible, fair and secure and support broad voter participation, and to continue to work to ensure our associates in Georgia and across the country have the information and resources to vote." The home-improvement retailer is headquartered in Atlanta.

Intel (INTC) did not provide specific comment as to why it hadn't signed on to Wednesday's statement. A company spokesperson said Intel is, however, signing a letter from the Business for Voting Rights coalition calling on the Senate to pass voting-rights legislation, as the U.S. House has done (link). "As our CEO, Pat Gelsinger, has said, Intel opposes any legislation that seeks to reduce the voting rights or opportunities of American citizens," the spokesperson shared.

JPMorgan Chase(JPM) noted that the company made its own "strong statement last month about the critical importance of every citizen being able to exercise their fundament right to vote." CEO Jamie Dimon had previously stated his opposition to efforts that "may prevent" Americans from being able to exercise their right to vote (link).

Microsoft did not provide additional comment as to its choice to sign on to Wednesday's statement. Notably, the company's CEO and president -- Satya Nadella and Brad Smith -- both signed the statement along with the company itself. In March, Smith published a blog post (link) outlining Microsoft's concerns about Georgia's new law, saying it "contains important provisions that needlessly and unfairly make it more difficult for people to vote."

3M (MMM) noted that it is "aligned with Business Roundtable's statement in support of access to voting rights" and told MarketWatch that it had "sent a communication this week to all U.S. employees reinforcing our commitment to voter access, as well as steps we have taken to make it easier to vote." It did not sign the letter published Wednesday.

Procter & Gamble(PG) did not provide comment on Wednesday's statement. However, a spokesperson referred MarketWatch to an earlier LinkedIn post (link) by the company's CEO, David Taylor. In the post, Taylor noted that the company "is not a political organization" and does not "take a position on every candidate or legislative item." He argued that Americans should be able to vote "easily, safely and securely," noting that company offers paid time off for its employees to participate in elections.

Salesforce said it is "engaging on issues related to voting rights as part of [the] nonpartisan policy priorities" laid out by the company's racial equality and justice task force. A company spokesperson added that Salesforce believes "every eligible person must have equal access to the ballot box."

Visa Inc. (V) CEO and Chairman Alfred Kelly Jr. said the U.S. "must have a voting system that allows everyone to vote in a process that is accessible, fair and has high integrity" in a LinkedIn post (link) earlier this week. He also said that voting rights shouldn't be a partisan issue. The company expanded its time-off policy for employees to go out and vote from two to four hours last year and plans to expand it to eight hours this year. The company did not say why it did not participate in the joint statement that came out on Wednesday.

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04-17-21 1542ET

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