It’s been rumored all week that, in light of Governor Brian Kemp signing SB 202 into law—a 98-page omnibus bill that creates numerous changes to the state’s elections system—that the MLB might pull the 2021 All-Star Game, scheduled to be held in July 13 at Truist Park, out of the state. Even President Joe Biden said in an ESPN interview this week that he would “strongly support” such an action, noting to the outlet that the public looks up to professional athletes as leaders.
“Look at what happened with the NBA, as well. Look what’s happened across the board. The very people who were victimized the most are the people who are the leaders in these various sports, and it’s just not right,” he said.
As of Friday afternoon, that decision is now official, with MLB Commissioner Robert D. Manfred Jr. issuing a statement:
“Over the last week, we have engaged in thoughtful conversations with Clubs, former and current players, the Players Association, and The Players Alliance, among others, to listen to their views. 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. 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.
We will continue with our plans to celebrate the memory of Hank Aaron during this season’s All-Star festivities. In addition, MLB’s planned investments to support local communities in Atlanta as part of our All-Star Legacy Projects will move forward. We are finalizing a new host city and details about these events will be announced shortly.”
SB 202, dubbed the “Election Integrity Act of 2021,” has remained highly controversial as various bills designed to alter Georgia’s elections system in the aftermath of the 2020 election made their way through the state legislature this session. SB 202, authored by Republicans and passed on party lines, makes changes to numerous aspect of the elections system, many of which Democrats and opponents cite as forms of voter suppression. Some of these changes have drawn national headlines, such as prohibiting anyone other than a poll worker to pass out water to those in line to vote, and banning passing out food and water to voters within 150 feet of a polling place or within 25 feet of any voter in line. (However, as GPB’s Stephen Fowler notes in his story explaining the bill in detail, “Depending on the location, it is still possible for third-party groups to have food and water available—and it is possible for the lines to extend beyond 150 feet.”)
The bill also reduced the time that voters can request a mail-in ballot from 180 days before an election to 11 weeks and requires a driver’s license/state ID number to be added to ballots and ballot requests; requires that ballot drop boxes be placed inside early voting locations and be available only during those early voting hours; and while the bill does expand early voting hours and added an additional Saturday, it shortens the time available for early voting before runoff elections.
The bill also removes the Secretary of State as the chair of the five-member State Elections Board (which also contains a member picked by the House, Senate, and both Democratic and Republican parties respectively), replacing them with a chair that must be appointed by the House and Senate. (The governor is to appoint someone for this role when the legislature is not in session; the 2021 legislative session ended this week.) The State Election Board now has more power over county election boards, giving the state board the ability to request a performance review, commissioned by an independent group, of a county elections boards and temporarily suspend ones that are “underperforming,” replacing them with a single person for at least nine months.
There has been mounting pressure for Atlanta-based companies to speak up in light of the bill’s signing on March 25, with some critics calling for boycotts. Both Delta and Coca-Cola released statements on March 31 calling the laws “unacceptable.” Microsoft, which is expanding in Atlanta, has also denounced the bill. Stacey Abrams told the AJC this week she thinks companies should not “yet” be boycotted, but that companies should speak out against the bill and invest in voting rights expansion and support federal voting rights expansion. After the MLB announced its decision on the All-Star Game, she tweeted, “Disappointed @MLB will move the All-Star Game, but proud of their stance on voting rights. GA GOP traded economic opportunity for suppression. On behalf of PoC targeted by #SB202 to lose votes + now wages, I urge events & productions to come & speak out or stay & fight.”
Governor Kemp released a statement saying, “Major League Baseball caved to fear, political opportunism, and liberal lies.” In the statement, Kemp and House Speaker David Ralston pointed blame directly at Abrams and President Biden.
The Braves released a statement saying they were “deeply disappointed” in the decision, writing, “This was neither our decision nor our recommendation, and we are saddened that fans will not be able to see this event in our city. The Braves organization will continue to stress the importance of equal voting opportunities, and we had hoped our city could use this event as a platform to enhance the discussion. Our city has always been known as a uniter in divided times, and we will miss the opportunity to address issues that are important to our community.”