Texas leaders, corporations form coalitions to fight voting restrictions

More than 180 local business and community leaders and 50 corporations have come out against voting restrictions in Texas in a coordinated dual effort aimed at rallying against voting restrictions and pending legislation.

The first letter, a copy of which was shared with NBC News by signatories and is dated Monday, is signed by business and community leaders. It criticizes specific elements of two major pieces of legislation currently under consideration in Texas, including the reallocation of polling machines, limiting early voting options and adding criminal penalties to various parts of the election process.

“These provisions, among others, will inevitably damage our competitiveness in attracting businesses and workers to Houston,” the letter says. “Voter suppression is a stain on our reputation that could cost our region millions of dollars.”

It is signed by a long list of Houston executives and community members including Gerald Smith, chairman of the investment advising firm Smith Graham, and Arthur Schechter, an attorney, philanthropist and former U.S. ambassador to the Bahamas.

Smith, who said he helped organize the letter, told NBC News that “it truly is good business for business leaders to take a stand on what is right.”

He said he doesn’t think the businesses will be able to completely stop the legislation, but they’re nonetheless working for that and to soften it.

“Politicians would like to make this a partisan issue. As a business leader, I don’t see this as a partisan issue,” he said. “This is a human rights issue.”

In a separate effort, at least 50 businesses, including HP Inc., Patagonia, American Airlines and P. Terry’s, formed a coalition known as Fair Elections Texas to speak out against voting restrictions in general in the state, according to Nathan Ryan, CEO of the Austin-based consulting firm Blue Sky Partners, which has signed onto the letter.

That coalition released a letter opposing restrictions on Tuesday.

“It’s important for business leaders to understand that a functioning democracy is good for business. We have one of those,” he told NBC News. “There was no real fraud in our last election, certainly nothing that would have swayed the outcome, so this entire battle we’re having right now is really about the health of our democracy overall.”

Texas lawmakers are considering a spate of election restrictions including two major bills currently working their way through the Legislature that would cut early voting options, empower poll watchers, and add criminal penalties to parts of the process for voters and election officials. One bill, Senate Bill 7, was rewritten in the House last week and could come up for a vote this week; as it reads now, it would add criminal penalties to the election process.

The coalition’s letter does not speak out against specific legislation, but Ryan said the timing was pointed.

“Now is a crucially important time for this statement to be made,” he said. “I know that these bills would further suppress the vote.”

Hundreds of major corporations have spoken out in recent weeks against voting restrictions, which are being advanced around the country, inspired by former President Donald Trump’s baseless allegations of voter fraud and stolen election lie.

American Airlines spoke out last month, specifically against the earlier version of S.B. 7, which cut early voting options and empowered poll watchers. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a Republican, responded angrily, claiming the airline had not read the bill.

A person involved in the statewide efforts to organize businesses who was not authorized to speak publicly said Patrick’s statements made businesses anxious.

“I literally heard one business be like, we’re going to step out, but then we’re going to have to prepare ourselves for the punishment that Dan Patrick and the Legislature will put on us,” they told NBC News.

Then, after this coalition had begun discussing how it would speak out, Republican lawmakers proposed budget amendments that would have punished businesses who spoke out against proposed voting restrictions.

Business leaders characterized those amendments, which later failed, as “mafia-style management,” the person said.