CEOs, Put Your Employees Where Your Mouths Are | Opinion

It is clear now that many states are following what Georgia did in passing voter suppression laws. Florida just enacted such a law, so have Iowa, and Texas is not far behind. Several other states have already passed, or are in the process of considering, laws that are clearly targeted at diminishing voter participation by minority voters and other urban constituencies. As some observers are now pointing out, certain enhancements to voter access, such as absentee balloting, are in fact highly used by Republican voters as well, but nonetheless, the Republican Party apparatus is undeterred in their efforts to undermine broader voter participation.

There was a very widespread CEO outcry in reaction to the Georgia law, in large part catalyzed by the incredible efforts of Jeffrey Sonnenfeld of Yale. However, the Republicans have strenuously pushed back against the CEO reaction, and the force of corporate activity in other states since then has diminished, although some major corporations have been active behind the scenes working to remove the worst elements of these bills. While the broad array of the nation's chief executives who weighed in on the issue did so very much in a spirit of bipartisanship, it has become very apparent that the Republican reaction at both the federal and state level is such that there is very little hope voting rights is going to become a bipartisan issue any time soon.

In order to undo the effects of these state laws, it is also very apparent federal legislation is necessary, even if it is focused solely on voting rights and the anti-election steal provisions, meaning the significant issue of not allowing state legislatures to insert themselves into local vote counting or overturning legitimate election results. However, based on the diminished momentum we are seeing from the CEO foray, it is highly doubtful the CEO community will unite around an attempt to push a voter protection law through the Senate by overturning the filibuster rule as an answer to the Big Lie.

It has also become very clear that rather than the ability to have a reasonable debate about voter laws, the Republican Party has now firmly established a litmus test that unless you embrace the Big Lie and the notion that the election was stolen, you are no longer welcome as a Republican. Just look at Liz Cheney being stripped of her House leadership position. The Big Lie has become the rationale underlying all these voter suppression efforts, and the Republican position on that issue has only hardened over the last month. Just see the reception Mitt Romney got from his own Utah Republican convention. The Republican Party has become one centered on complete devotion to Trumpian fabrications.

The threat of withholding campaign contributions to the scores of Republican congressmen and senators who voted to deny the legitimacy of Joe Biden's victory has obviously not had much deterrent effect. In fact, the most successful grassroots fundraising has been by those Republicans on the extreme who have most championed the Big Lie and Donald Trump's defiant words.

CEOs could, of course, pull events out of states that enact laws driven by the Big Lie, but there is hardly a better example of such action than Major League Baseball pulling the All Star Game out of Atlanta, which has not seemed to have any effect on the actions of Florida or Texas. Moreover, local Democrats spoke out against those actions as hurting the very people those events would otherwise financially support.

The inverse of this, although it was not done because of the voter issues, is Apple deciding to build an enormous $1 billion dollar campus in North Carolina, a key swing state, which will presumably bring thousands of young and diverse workers to that state. However, that kind of action in and of itself is not scalable enough to truly change the demographics of most swing states.

What can the corporate community do from here if it is truly committed to living up to its words of support for Ken Chenault and Ken Frazier, two of the most prominent Black CEOs in the country, whose articulation of this issue excellently captured its importance to both American business and American democracy?

There is something corporate America could do that does not involve having to take Republicans head on in a legislative battle over the filibuster, or undermine pro-voting rights local Democratic politicians who do not want to see their states robbed of commercial activity because of a boycott. We learned something from the pandemic that would be critical to solving this issue. We have not only learned from the pandemic that in the political arena an election can be conducted with great integrity based on constructive rules around absentee ballots, drop boxes and early voting, but also learned in the corporate arena that the vast majority of employees in office jobs can work remotely without ever having to set foot in their corporate offices.

There are some 24 million United States employees of the S&P 500 companies alone, some significant portion of which could easily work from a residence far from their previous corporate location as many have over the last 14 months. In fact, many employees would potentially welcome the opportunity to move to states with better weather, lower taxes and lower cost of living overall, whether that be Georgia, Florida, Texas, Arizona or North Carolina. Many others would certainly respond to financial incentives to move to such locations if their companies offered them. Essentially, I am proposing creating a corporate initiative to turn demography into political destiny for key swing states.

If corporate America decided that it would support a new Corporate Great Migration to swing states of women, young and diverse employees—those most likely to vote against Big Lie candidates—especially when we are talking about the very thin voter margins for Biden we saw in Georgia, Arizona and Wisconsin (admittedly not a good weather state), this could reshape the voter demography of those states in a short period of time. Looking at history, the two Great Migrations of African Americans from the South to northern states certainly reshaped the demography of many states.

Voting booth
A view of voting booths at the Santa Clara County registrar of voters office on October 13, 2020, in San Jose, California. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Moreover, rather than many of these corporations having limited political clout in the most important swing states, a mass migration of employees to those states would enhance corporate political capital in those very areas. Very importantly, the new Census will involve a net swing of eight additional electoral votes to states that Trump won, and so the demography of population distribution is not working in the favor of blue state America. Thus, defeating Trumpism through an influx of new voters to key swing states with an eye toward the 2022 and 2024 elections would be extremely well timed to counter these already baked-in population shifts.

In order to pursue this approach, corporate America is going to have to come to terms with the fact that, at least for the short-term, large corporations are going to need to tacitly support the Democratic Party in order to help defeat a Republican Party apparatus that is bent on continuing to push an election narrative falsehood, the goal of which is to lower voter participation and enable state legislatures to overturn legitimate future election results. Corporations may find it uncomfortable to be working toward overcoming Republican strength in swing states because the Democratic Party advocates higher corporate taxes, and may be viewed as less friendly on regulatory issues. On the other hand, Democratic policy is aimed among other things at increased infrastructure spending, increased R&D, increased growth of eco-friendly enterprises, as well as anti-trust policy intended to strengthen tech company growth that is undermined by a few tech behemoths. In any event, the bottom line is that corporations must decide if their support for basic democratic ideals "trumps" their desire for maintaining low tax rates.

To put in context what the electoral numbers are relative to big corporate America's employee population—if Florida and Texas alone can be flipped from their current pro-Trump majorities, the electoral impact would be such that the Republican Party would go dramatically down to defeat in the House, Senate and presidency. The total Trump margin in those two states combined was just about 1 million votes. Yet, in North Carolina it was only about 70,000 votes. In Arizona, less than 11,000 votes. While in the aggregate these are not small numbers, they are well within the "work from anywhere" reach of America's large companies. If they truly wanted to effect change, this would do it.

New York and California would in all likelihood take a disproportionate hit under this approach, but from an electoral point of view, they have a lot of Democratic and Independent voter margin to spare, given that most of Biden's 7 million popular vote win over Trump stemmed from those two states. With the Census behind us for another 10 years, some further population erosion from these states will not change their Electoral College votes or congressional seats for several election cycles. Yet, if this Corporate Great Migration plan was successful, corporations, as is the case with major New York based companies, could put more pressure on supporting the reinstatement of deductibility of state and local taxes (SALT) to attempt to bring some balance back to living in high tax coastal states.

This is a far less confrontational way for corporations to tackle the threat to our democracy that Trumpism-infected state legislatures pose to the electoral process. States such as Georgia, Florida, Arizona and Texas are not going to respond by saying "we don't want more good-paying jobs coming to our state." They are not going to try to fight an influx of new taxpayers. In fact, there is a counter argument that such a Corporate Great Migration would be rewarding those states for bad behavior.

This is a somewhat radical proposal for a corporation to consider, but if corporations truly believe that the future of our democracy is at stake is it really too radical to attempt? It is quite likely millions of their employees would embrace such a plan, so given that, is it too extreme to consider, recognizing that corporate attempts at political engagement on voting rights seem to be falling well below what they would like to see? On the other hand, if CEOs don't want to consider creating a Corporate Great Migration, they really do need to do everything they can to move Senator Joe Manchin into the column of overturning the filibuster rule for the limited purpose of voter protection legislation as the response to the Big Lie—a debate worth having in every corporate boardroom.

Tom Rogers is an editor-at-large for Newsweek, the founder of CNBC and a CNBC contributor. He also established MSNBC, is the former CEO of TiVo, currently executive chair of Engine Media and is former senior counsel to a congressional committee.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.