The Republican governor of the US state of Georgia has slammed Major League Baseball (MLB) after the league announced it would relocate this year’s All-Star Game and MLB draft over the state’s new restrictive voting law.
Signed late last month, the legislation disproportionately disenfranchises Black voters in Georgia, which has a history of racial discrimination – and it has drawn widespread rebuke from local communities, rights advocates, legislators and companies.
“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,” MLB Commissioner Robert Manfred said in a statement on Friday. The events had been scheduled to take place in Atlanta.
“Major League Baseball fundamentally supports voting rights for all Americans and opposes restrictions to the ballot box,” Manfred said.
On Saturday, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp hit back, saying the state would defend the legislation in court. The Republican leader accused the MLB of caving “to fear and lies from liberal activists”.
Today, @MLB caved to fear, political opportunism, and liberal lies.
— Governor Brian P. Kemp (@GovKemp) April 2, 2021
“I want to be clear: I will not be backing down from this fight. We will not be intimidated, and we will also not be silenced,” said Kemp, who also criticised US corporations who have backed the MLB’s move.
Coca-Cola Co and Delta Airlines last week joined a bid by US companies to challenge the new voting rules, which impose stricter ID requirements, limit ballot drop boxes, and make it a misdemeanour for people to offer food and water to voters waiting in line, among other measures.
Civil rights groups in Georgia have filed a civil lawsuit against the legislation, while US President Joe Biden has called the restrictions “an atrocity” and “a blatant attack on the Constitution and good conscience”.
Al Jazeera’s Mike Hanna, reporting from Washington, DC, said on Saturday that other US states, such as Texas and Florida, are contemplating similar voting legislation. The difference, he said, is that corporations have already come out against those prospective laws.
“This is something that is having a major national impact, that doesn’t just concern Georgia it appears,” Hanna said.
Before the MLB decision was announced, The Nation sports editor Dave Zirin wrote that “there is increasing awareness that Georgia has become ground zero in the voter suppression fight” in the United States.
“If the national pastime is holding its premier event in Georgia, it gives a patina of Americana to a state that is codifying one of the more obscene parts of this country’s history,” he said.
Zirin also pointed out that the MLB’s decision would not be unprecedented; the National Basketball Association (NBA) moved its 2017 All-Star Game out of North Carolina over anti-transgender legislation and the National Football League (NFL) moved the 1993 Super Bowl from Arizona when it did not recognise Martin Luther King’s birthday.
Georgia Democratic organiser Stacey Abrams, credited with helping Democrats win two US Senate seats in the state this year, said she was disappointed that the All-Star Game would be relocated from Atlanta, but commended the MLB for speaking out.
Abrams said Republicans who passed the law “did so knowing the economic risks to our state” and “prioritized making it harder for people of color to vote over the economic well-being of all Georgians”.
The Miami Marlins and the Baltimore Orioles MLB teams also welcomed the league’s decision. “We stand united with Commissioner Manfred in denouncing this malicious legislative effort to suppress voters in Georgia and other state legislatures,” the Orioles said in a statement.
Last month, Biden signed an order to encourage US voter participation amid a torrent of Republican legislative efforts to restrict voting after former President Donald Trump falsely alleged that the November 2020 presidential election was stolen from him due to widespread fraud.
The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, which tracks voting legislation around the country, reported that as of March 24, “legislators have introduced 361 bills with restrictive provisions in 47 states”.
That was a 43 percent increase from the tally on February 19, the centre said.