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Black corporate leaders condemn Georgia voting law for ‘disproportionate’ access to ballot

Georgia's recent voting law instating new ID rules for mail-in ballots has led 72 Black CEO's to write a full-page ad in The New York Times urging corporate executives to oppose the law. One of the signers of that letter, Roger Ferguson, CEO of TIAA and former vice chair of the federal reserve, joins Judy Woodruff tonight to discuss the law.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Delta, Coca-Cola, and Major League Baseball, these are just some of the dozens of companies speaking out against new voting legislation in Georgia and other states.

    Georgia's law, signed late last month, imposes new I.D. requirements for mail in ballots, limits the number of ballot drop boxes and more clearly defines time for early voting. Supporters say that it ensures voting security and transparency.

    But voting rights advocates say that the law will disproportionately affect voters of color. That led 72-Black CEOs to write a full-page ad in The New York Times urging corporate executives to oppose the law.

    One of the signers of that letter joins me now.

    He is Roger Ferguson, the CEO of TIAA and the former vice chair of the Federal Reserve.

    Roger Ferguson, thank you so much for joining us.

    Let me just start by asking, why did you sign this letter?

  • Roger Ferguson:

    I have a strong point of view, as do I think the other signers, that voting is a fundamental right.

    We know that millions have died or sacrificed their lives to ensure the right of Americans to vote. And I thought it was important for corporate leaders to speak up at this moment, as I looked at that legislation.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, when the governor of Georgia, Brian Kemp, and the backers of this law say that it's fair, that it's designed to make voting more accessible to people, what is your — how do you answer that?

  • Roger Ferguson:

    Well, I will answer it by looking at some of the issues that you raised early on.

    As an example, in terms of the number of drop boxes, in the city of Atlanta, the number of drop boxes, based on a calculation under the law, might drop from a 40 to only eight. Many of the drop boxes, in fact, all of them, would then be put behind doors in office buildings that would be closed during the evenings and other times, when working folks may want to go in and drop off their ballot.

    As you observed at the very beginning, there are new restriction on absentee ballots, for example, and the days available to request an absentee ballot have been reduced quite significantly.

    And so I looked at that and said, hmm. And this feels to me as though maybe the intention was good, but I am a little concerned that the effect, particularly on African Americans and others, might be disproportionate and might be negative, might discourage individuals from voting whose forefathers fought really hard for the right to vote.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Did you agree with the decision by Major League Baseball to pull the All-Star Game out of Georgia?

  • Roger Ferguson:

    Well, look, I believe Major League Baseball made a decision based on their own analysis of what was good for the sport and what their fans and others may have wanted.

    And, as far as I can tell, it's a direct result of the law itself. So whether or not I agree or disagree is not as relevant as the fact that they decided to do it based on their interpretation of the law.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And I'm asking because, just this afternoon, President Biden was asked about some of this. In fact, he was asked whether The Masters golf tournament should pull out of Georgia. He said that's up to The Masters.

    But he also — he said he's glad that these corporations are taking a look at these decisions, but he also said he knows that these are tough decisions, because they involve people who depend on these corporations, depend on these events for their livelihood.

  • Roger Ferguson:

    No, I agree they are actually tough — tough decisions.

    And the issue, ultimately, is whether or not the law is the right law at this time and this place in America, whether or not the risks to the franchise for hundreds of thousands and maybe more Georgians is worth the effort.

    And so I think it is — these are clearly tough decisions. No one wants to be confronted this way. But, as far as I can tell, it's all the result of a law that many of us have looked at and have some serious, serious concerns and reservations about.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What do you want to have happen? Are you talking to corporate leaders in other states that are looking at laws similarly imposing new restrictions around voting?

  • Roger Ferguson:

    I'm not personally doing that, but I think what's happened — and this show is an example of it — the national debate and discussion about access to the ballot and what makes for safe and secure elections has risen to the top.

    And, importantly, we see, as often occurs at moments of stress and uncertainty in America, that corporate leaders are now stepping forward and expressing a point of view, based on their analysis, based on the advice they're getting from counsel, based on what they're hearing from their own clients, their own customers and their own employees.

    And so I think we're in a very important time here in America's history, where corporations are again finding their voice and speaking out in favor of fundamental rights, constitutional rights, the right to the ballot.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What do you make, Roger Ferguson, of, for example, the comment by the Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, responding — he was responding to what Major League Baseball has done and what this letter and what other corporations are saying who have been critical, like Delta and Coca-Cola.

    He said: "This is a coordinated campaign by powerful and wealthy people to mislead and bully the American people." He said it's all based on a big lie.

  • Roger Ferguson:

    My view is that this is basically a number of individuals who are concerned about the present and future of America, who are trying very hard to raise an important question, which is, with the state of electoral politics, does it make sense to try to have the broadest possible access to the ballot?

    Given the history of this country, does it make sense to try to have the broadest possible access to the ballot? Now, Judy, you should recognize that, among the 35 leading industrial economies, the United States ranks roughly 30 — 30th in terms of voter participation. You know, that can't be a position that we're proud of.

    I presume that we really want to see, given the history of America from beginning to this day, as many native-born and naturalized American citizens exercising their franchise as possible. And I think that's what this debate is really about.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So when, for example, the former governor of South Carolina — she's the former ambassador to the United Nations — Nikki Haley, said, as she did this week, she said big corporations are the new liberal mob in what they're calling on — calling on in criticizing this law.

  • Roger Ferguson:

    I don't think this is a liberal vs. conservative question.

    You know, you pointed out that I was a vice chairman of the Federal Reserve. I was proud to have been appointed by both Democrats and Republicans and to have worked well across the various political spectrums of the United States.

    I don't think this is a liberal vs. conservatives question. This is an American question. This is a question where I know of no one on either side of the aisle, liberal or conservatives, who thinks, well, gee, the goal of America should be to reduce the number of people who exercise their franchise, we should have a representative democracy where smaller and smaller numbers of people come to the ballot.

    So, I think it's not fair to middle-of-the-road corporate leaders such as myself and the other signers to suggest that this is liberal vs. conservative. This is people standing up for hard-fought constitutional rights and making sure they get protected as fully as possible.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    One other subject I want to raise with you, and that is President Biden's call to raise the corporate tax rate from 21 percent to 28 percent.

    What is your view of that?

  • Roger Ferguson:

    Yes, my view of that is that there will be an active debate around that question.

    We have known for a while that the Biden administration has called for and Congress has approved a $1.9 trillion support package, and they're talking about more trillions to support infrastructure around other things.

    And, over time, all that has to be paid for. So I think it's important for Congress and the president to come to a point of view to figure out how we're going to manage this load in terms of debt being built.

    So, I look forward to seeing, in the fullness of time, exactly how Congress and the administration resolve this very, very important question.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Do you think it's a good idea?

  • Roger Ferguson:

    I think, in some places, it may well be. We have to be very, very careful.

    We already have, for some, a very high corporate tax rate. Part of the question is, what is the so-called effective tax rate? And so an issue may well be, OK, if they're going to raise the rate, what are the deductions that corporations are going to be allowed to have?

    And so I think it's a complicated story, not simply around sort of the headline number or the rate, but how does the law allow corporations to deal with various kinds of expenses they have and when they're being appropriately written off?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Roger Ferguson, who is the CEO of TIAA, the financial services corporation, and also, of course, former vice chair of the Federal Reserve, thank you very much.

  • Roger Ferguson:

    Judy, thank you so much for giving me this chance to talk with you.

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