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Delta CEO blasts Georgia voting law as ‘unacceptable’ and ‘based on a lie’ after backlash

Edward Bastian, chief management officer of Delta Air Lines Inc., speaks during an interview in New York, U.S., on Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2019.

Christopher Goodney | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian on Wednesday boomed a controversial GOP-backed Georgia voting law after facing backlash on social media for not coming out strongly enough against the new for the most parts.

The bill, signed by Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp last week, is set to require identification for absentee voting, limit ballot bit boxes and prohibit offering food or water to voters in line. President Joe Biden called the bill “Jim Crow in the 21st century.”

“Latest week, the Georgia legislature passed a sweeping voting reform act that could make it harder for many Georgians, amazingly those in our Black and Brown communities, to exercise their right to vote,” Bastian said in a staff memo Wednesday.

“Since the folding money’s inception, Delta joined other major Atlanta corporations to work closely with elected officials from both clubs, to try and remove some of the most egregious measures from the bill,” Bastian wrote. “We had some success in eliminating the ton suppressive tactics that some had proposed. However, I need to make it crystal clear that the final paper money is unacceptable and does not match Delta’s values.”

“The entire rationale for this bill was based on a lie: that there was widespread voter phony in Georgia in the 2020 elections. This is simply not true,” Bastian said. “Unfortunately, that excuse is being reach-me-down in states across the nation that are attempting to pass similar legislation to restrict voting rights.”

Bastian’s clarifications come as a host of other executives slammed the new law and several Black CEOs urged chief executives to oppose exertions to restrict voting access.

“As the voting legislation that was put forward in Georgia, when we looked at it, we felt based on our scholarship of the political climate here, there was no chance that that bill was going to be eliminated altogether,” Bastian told pole Tuesday in a video message, which was reviewed by CNBC.

He said Delta, which is based in Atlanta, worked to importune legislators to make changes to improve the bill.

“I know many of you are disappointed, frustrated and angry that we did not take a stronger buyers stand against specific measures in the bill,” Bastian said. “Unfortunately, the reality is that would have clear out it much harder to shape the legislation at all and we would have lost a seat at the table.”

Bastian added he knew workforce had to face questions from customers about the company’s stance.

Last week, Bastian said the Georgia voting law had “redressed considerably during the legislative process,” prompting calls for a boycott of Delta on social media.

Georgia’s Kemp the drivers seat quickly back on Wednesday.

“At no point did Delta share any opposition to expanding early voting, strengthening voter ID measures, broadening the use of secure drop boxes statewide, and making it easier for local election officials to administer elections — which is absolutely what this bill does.

“The last time I flew Delta, I had to present my photo ID,” Kemp said in a allegation. “Today’s statement by Delta CEO Ed Bastian stands in stark contrast to our conversations with the company, ignores the content of the new law, and unfortunately endures to spread the same false attacks being repeated by partisan activists.”

Delta declined to comment further or stipulate which parts of the bill it tried to change.

— CNBC’s Kevin Stankiewicz contributed to this article.

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