More than 180 local business and community leaders, 50 companies have spoken out against voting restrictions in Texas as part of a coordinated duel effort to rally behind voting restrictions and current legislation.
The first letter, a copy of which was shared with NBC News by the signatories and is dated May 3, is signed by business and community leaders. He criticizes specific elements of two major pieces of legislation currently under consideration in Texas, including the reallocation of voting machines, the limitation of early voting options and the addition of criminal penalties to various parts of the electoral process.
“These and other provisions will inevitably hurt our competitiveness in attracting businesses and workers to Houston,” the letter wrote. “Eliminating voters is a stain on our reputation that could cost our region millions of dollars.”
It is signed by a long list of Houston leaders and community members, including Gerald Smith, chairman of investment advisory firm Smith Graham, and former US Ambassador Arthur Schechter, lawyer and philanthropist.
Smith, who said he helped organize the letter, told NBC News that “it’s really good business for business leaders to take a stand on what’s right.”
He said he doesn’t think companies will be able to stop the bill altogether, but are working for it and loosening the law nonetheless.
“Politicians would like to make it a partisan issue. As a business leader, I don’t see it as a partisan issue,” he said. “It is a matter of human rights.”
In a separate effort, at least 50 companies, including Hewlett-Packard, Patagonia, American Airlines and P. Terry’s, have formed a coalition known as Fair Elections Texas to speak out against general voting restrictions in the state, according to Nathan Ryan, CEO. Austin-based consulting firm Blue Sky Partners, which signed the letter.
The coalition published a letter on Tuesday opposing the restrictions.
“It’s important for business leaders to understand that a functioning democracy is good for business. We have one, ”he told NBC News. “There was no real fraud in our last election, certainly nothing that would have influenced the outcome, so this whole battle we are currently fighting is really about the health of our democracy as a whole.
Texas lawmakers are considering a series of electoral restrictions, including two major bills currently being drafted in the legislature that would reduce early voting options, empower election observers, 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 be put to a vote this week; as it reads now, that would add criminal penalties to the electoral process.
The coalition letter does not denounce specific legislation, but Ryan said the time is right.
“The time is crucial for this statement to be made,” he said. “I know these bills would suppress voting more.”
Hundreds of major corporations have spoken out in recent weeks against voting restrictions, which are being advanced across the country, inspired by former President Donald Trump’s baseless allegations of voter fraud and stolen election lies.
American Airlines spoke out last month, particularly against the earlier version of SB 7, which removed early voting options and empowered poll watchers. Republican Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick responded angrily, saying the airline had not read the bill.
A person involved in the state’s efforts to organize businesses who was not authorized to speak to the press said Patrick’s statements made businesses anxious.
“I’ve literally heard that a company was like, we’re going to get out, but then we’re going to have to prepare for the punishment Dan Patrick and the legislature will give us,” they told NBC News.
Then, after that coalition began discussing how it would speak, Republican lawmakers proposed budget amendments that would have punished companies that spoke out against the proposed voting restrictions.
Business leaders called the amendments, which subsequently failed, “mafia-style management,” the person said.