MLB Moves All-Star Game, Opposing Georgia’s Voting Law

Photo courtesy of Omni Hotels.

By Terrance Turner

April 2, 2021

Major League Baseball is moving the MLB All-Star Game and MLB Draft out of Atlanta in response to the restrictive voting law passed in Georgia last week. In a statement, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement: “I have decided that the best way to demonstrate our values as a sport is by relocating this year’s All-Star Game and MLB Draft.”

“Major League Baseball fundamentally supports voting rights for all Americans and opposes restrictions to the ballot box. In 2020, MLB became the first professional sports league to join the non-partisan Civic Alliance to help build a future in which everyone participates in shaping the United States,” he continued. “We proudly used our platform to encourage baseball fans and communities throughout our country to perform their civic duty and actively participate in the voting process. Fair access to voting continues to have our game’s unwavering support.”

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp last week signed a bill that restrits voting by mail, absentee ballots and other aspects of voting in the state. The bill was finalized on March 25, just about 15 miles from the Atlanta Braves’ stadium, according to ESPN. Kemp signed the bill in a closed room, surrounded by white men, in front of a painting depicting a plantation. (It’s the notorious Callaway Plantation in Wilkes County, Georgia, now a museum. In an oral history narrative, Mariah Callaway, born into slavery on the plantation, said that when slaves escaped the master would send hounds “to bite plugs out of their legs“.

Photo released by Brian Kemp.

In addition to the outcry over the obvious issues of the photo, there was also widespread objection to the content of the bill itself. Activists, critics, and even residents all decried what they saw as discriminatory intent behind the legislation. The New York Times did an analysis of the 98-page bill and identified 16 provisions “that hamper the right to vote for some Georgians or strip power from state or local elections officials.” Some of them are outlined below.

“Georgia has cut by more than half the period during which voters may request an absentee ballot, from nearly six months before an election to less than three,” the Times reported. The time period has been cut from 180 days down to 78. In the 2020 election, 1.3 million Georgians (26% of the electorate) voted with absentee ballots — and more blacks did than whites. (65% of absentees voted for Biden.) Additionally, the Georgia law has strict new ID requirements for absentee ballots.

Page 38: In order to confirm the identity of the voter, such form shall require the elector to provide his or her name, date of birth, address as registered, address where the elector wishes the ballot to be mailed, and the number of his or her Georgia driver’s license or identification card issued … If such elector does not have a Georgia driver’s license or identification card … the elector shall affirm this fact in the manner prescribed in the application and the elector shall provide a copy of a form of identification … The form made available by the Secretary of State shall include a space to affix a photocopy or electronic image of such identification.

From text of bill

Before this, voters simply had to sign the application for their ballots. Now, they have to provide the number of their license or other ID card. 200,000 Georgia residents have no driver’s license or ID card, according to CNN.

Across the country, about 11 percent of Americans do not have government-issued photo identification cards, such as a driver’s license or a passport, according to Wendy Weiser of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law. The American Civil Liberties Union adds: “Minority voters disproportionately lack ID. Nationally, up to 25% of African-American citizens of voting age lack government-issued photo ID, compared to only 8% of whites.”

Drop boxes are highly limited under the new law. In 2020, there were 94 drop boxes across the four counties that constitute most of metro Atlanta: Fulton, Cobb, DeKalb, and Gwinnett. The new law limits those boxes to, at most, 23, per the Times. They must be placed indoors at government buildings or early voting sites and thus will be unavailable for voters to drop off ballots during evenings or after business hours.

Mobile voting centers (like RVs) are now banned under the new law. Last year, Fulton County (the seat of Atlanta) had two vehicles that brought polling sites to people at churches, parks and libraries in the county (which is 45% Black). The new law bans their use unless Gov. Kemp declares a state of emergency to allow them.

Perhaps most egregiously, the law criminalizes offering refreshments to those waiting in line to vote. Offering food or water to voters in line is now a misdemeanor.

No person shall solicit votes in any manner or by any means or method, nor shall any person distribute or display any campaign material, nor shall any person give, offer to give, or participate in the giving of any money or gifts, including, but not limited to, food and drink, to an elector, nor shall any person solicit signatures for any petition, nor shall any person, other than election officials discharging their duties, establish or set up any tables or booths on any day in which ballots are being cast: (1) Within 150 feet of the outer edge of any building within which a polling place is established; (2) Within any polling place; or (3) Within 25 feet of any voter standing in line to vote at any polling place.

Page 73 of the Georgia law

This is particularly galling, given the long lines that voters faced last year in the general election. Some were stalled in line from morning to night. On October 10, NowThis writer Ashleigh Carter revealed, “On Monday [October 5], Georgia residents reported waiting in line for up to eleven hours — and in some cases, voting machine malfunctions caused even more delays. On Tuesday afternoon [October 6], The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that voters were given estimated wait times of eight hours in Gwinnett County and five hours in Cobb County.” 

An analysis by Georgia Public Broadcasting and ProPublica found a significant disparity in wait times after the 7 pm poll closures. For polling places in which voters were 90% white, the average wait time was 6 minutes. For polling places with voters who were 90% non-white, the average wait time was 51 minutes.

The decision by MLB drew heated reaction on both sides. One voice of approval was NBA star LeBron James:

Georgia activist Stacey Abrams was more measured:

Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, who is to guide the National League All-Star team, applauded MLB for moving the game from Georgia.

“I think in a world now where people want and need to be heard — and in this particular case, people of color — for Major League Baseball to listen and do something about it, to be proactive, it sets a tone,” said Roberts, the son of a Black father and Japanese mother.

On the other hand, the Atlanta Braves expressed disappointment about the decision:

Conservatives lamented the decision as an example of “cancel culture”, criticizing the MLB for “caving” to what they saw as liberal outrage. Today, at a press conference, Gov. Brian Kemp blasted the decision. “Yesterday, Major League Baseball caved to fear and lies from liberal activists,” Mr. Kemp said at a news conference, flanked by the state’s Republican attorney general, G.O.P. members of the legislature and grass-roots activists. “In the middle of a pandemic, Major League Baseball put the wishes of Stacey Abrams and Joe Biden ahead of the economic well-being of hard-working Georgians who were counting on the All-Star Game for a paycheck.”

Republicans, including Mr. Trump, have called for a boycott. “Don’t go back to their products until they relent,” the former president urged in a statement on Saturday night, naming companies including Delta and Coca-Cola. “We can play the game better than them.” Fox News host Laura Ingraham added on Twitter: “Patriots will choose another beverage. Big mistake by @CocaCola. Don’t poke the bear.”

But so far, Delta and Coca-Cola — two of the state’s largest corporations — have held firm. “I want to be crystal clear,” James Quincey, the chief executive of Coca-Cola, said on Wednesday. “The Coca-Cola Company does not support this legislation, as it makes it harder for people to vote, not easier.”

UPDATE (April 6, 2021): The MLB has decided to move the All-Star Game to Coors Field in Denver. The news was delivered by an anonymous source. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity Monday night because MLB hadn’t announced the move yet. The commissioner’s office was expected to declare Tuesday that the Colorado Rockies will host the game. ESPN was first to report the decision.

“We are excited about the possibility of hosting the All Star Game and are awaiting MLB’s decision,” Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock told KDVR. Coors Field has not hosted the MLB All-Star Game since 1998.

Significantly, Colorado has automatic and same-day voter registration — and allows up to 13 different forms of voter ID whereas Georgia allows only six. It had the second-highest turnout for a state in the 2020 election (behind only Minnesota), and its voting system has been praised by sources including the New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. Daily Kos reporter Stephen Wolf also lauded Colorado:

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