Republicans in the Georgia House of Representatives voted late on March 31 to deny a tax break to Delta Air Lines (DL, Atlanta Hartsfield Jackson) that is worth tens of millions of dollars annually after the carrier joined other businesses to condemn the state’s widely criticised voting restrictions, local media reported.

Although the bill was rendered largely symbolic when the state’s Senate failed to take up the measure before adjourning its yearly session on April 2 and has not become law, it reflected the risks that company executives face in an increasingly hostile political environment.

Initially, critics questioned why Delta - the state’s largest private employer with 33,000 employees - and other companies failed to speak out before Brian Kemp, the state’s governor, signed a law in March enacting new voting restrictions in the state, part of a Republican effort to tighten voting measures in at least 43 states across the United States. The reasons often given for such laws cite efforts to restore confidence in America’s voting system, though much of this argument rests on unproven allegations of voter fraud in the 2020 United States presidential election.

In Georgia, the law aims to restrict early voting, limit ballot drop boxes, and forbid non-poll workers from distributing water or food to waiting voters. Democrats have argued that it would make it harder for many Georgians, particularly those in the black community, to exercise their right to vote.

Before it had been signed into law, a campaign among business leaders had sprung up against it. By March 30, Delta CEO Ed Bastian was facing strong pressure amid calls to boycott the airline for not speaking out, despite having previously been vocal on social matters such as gun control and racial justice protests.

However, on March 31 he released a statement on the Delta website saying that the law “is unacceptable and does not match Delta’s values.”

Bastian claimed that Delta had earlier “joined other major Atlanta corporations to work closely with elected officials from both parties, to try and remove some of the most egregious measures from the bill,” efforts where “we had some success in eliminating the most suppressive tactics that some had proposed.”

Now, however, “after having time to fully understand all that is in the bill, [...] it’s evident that it includes provisions that will make it harder for many underrepresented voters, particularly Black voters, to exercise their constitutional right to elect their representatives. That is wrong.”

He added: “The entire rationale for this bill was based on a lie: that there was widespread voter fraud in Georgia in the 2020 elections. This is simply not true. Unfortunately, that excuse is being used in states across the nation that are attempting to pass similar legislation to restrict voting rights,” efforts he pledged that Delta would continue to work against.