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

  • Delta's CEO, Ed Bastian, said the "final bill is unacceptable and does not match Delta’s values."
  • The Republican-backed voting law has drawn criticism from customers and politicians.
  • The CEO previously said the law "improved considerably during the legislative process."
  • Delta said it worked to take out some of the most "egregious measures."

Edward Bastian, chief executive 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 blasted a controversial GOP-backed Georgia voting law after facing backlash on social media for not coming out strongly enough against the new rules.

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

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

"Since the bill's inception, Delta 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," Bastian wrote. "We had some success in eliminating the most suppressive tactics that some had proposed. However, I need to make it crystal clear that the final bill 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 fraud in Georgia in the 2020 elections. This is simply not true," Bastian said. "Unfortunately, that excuse is being used in states across the nation that are attempting to pass similar legislation to restrict voting rights."

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

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

He said Delta, which is based in Atlanta, worked to push 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 public stand against specific measures in the bill," Bastian said. "Unfortunately, the reality is that would have made it much harder to shape the legislation at all and we would have lost a seat at the table."

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

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

Georgia's Kemp shot back on Wednesday.

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

"The last time I flew Delta, I had to present my photo ID," Kemp said in a statement. "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 continues to spread the same false attacks being repeated by partisan activists."

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

— CNBC's Kevin Stankiewicz contributed to this article.

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