A group of more than 200 faith leaders from across the US have called on National Football League commissioner Roger Goodell to pull the 2023 Super Bowl out of Arizona over the state’s restrictive voting laws and attempts among Republican state legislators to overturn election results and consolidate power.
Arizona is among several GOP-dominated states planning to overhaul election laws in the wake of the 2020 presidential election and Donald Trump’s baseless narrative that the results were “stolen” from him.
Within the first few weeks of 2022, Republican legislators in Arizona have proposed effectively eliminating early and mail-in voting and holding a special legislative session to review and potentially reject election outcomes, among other proposals.
The latest measures – some of which were sponsored by GOP lawmakers who supported a spurious “audit” of the state’s 2020 presidential election results – also would block municipalities from holding all-mail elections, which the vast majority of the state’s voters have used for more than a decade.
“These new laws compound earlier discriminatory voting laws passed in Arizona that restrict ballot collecting and provisional ballots,” faith leaders wrote in a letter dated 27 January. “The majority of voters harmed by these laws are African American, Latino and Native American voters, rural voters, and poor and low income voters.”
The group of faith leaders, several of whom are from Arizona, includes Reverend Jesse Jackson and Reverend William Barber, a prominent voting rights advocate and co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign.
The letter invokes Martin Luther King Jr’s condemnation of the moral wrongs of racial discrimination, “a cancerous disease which prevents our democratic health from being realised”, and the “spectators” who refuse to wield their influence.
In 1991, the NFL moved the Super Bowl from Tempe to Pasadena, California for the 1993 game over Arizona’s refusal to recognise Martin Luther King Jr Day.
“We ask that you take the same action for Super Bowl LVII,” faith leaders wrote in their letter to Mr Goodell.
Their letter also criticises Arizona Democratic Senator Kyrsten Sinema, who refused to support her party’s efforts in the upper chamber to dismantle filibuster rules allowing Republicans to repeatedly obstruct a vote on federal voting rights legislation that she supports.
The latest congressional measure, The Freedom To Vote: John R Lewis Act, is “named for the civil rights icon who tossed the coin to open Super Bowl LIII”, faith leaders noted.
“This federal legislation would have mitigated the effect of Arizona’s voter suppression laws and those enacted across 18 other states,” they wrote.
Last year, Republican legislators in 17 states passed at least 32 new laws to change the rules of election administration and strip oversight from election officials to put it into the hands of GOP-controlled legislatures.
Republican lawmakers filed at least 262 such bills in 41 states in 2021 alone, and more are coming in 2022.
A parallel effort in 2021 saw at least 19 states pass 24 laws restricting ballot access and rolling back early and mail-in voting, after GOP legislators filed more than 440 restrictive bills in nearly every state.
Last year, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp signed a sweeping elections bill into law, sharply reducing ballot drop box locations, adding new voter ID requirements for mail-in ballots, and paving the way for state takeovers of local elections, among other measures,
Its passage prompted Major League Baseball to pull its All-Star game out of Atlanta – and in a letter to NFL employees, Mr Goodell said that “the right to vote is fundamental and at the core of our democracy”.
“We will always support that right, and the NFL has done so in a comprehensive and thoughtful way,” he wrote.
He touted the league’s NFL Votes initiative, which promotes voter education and registration, and pointed out that 16 NFL stadiums served as voting sites, while several teams supported election workers and voters on Election Day.
In a statement on Thursday, Reverend Stephen A Green said the US is “closer than ever to midnight for our democracy because Congress refuses to protect the right to vote”.
“Now is the time for corporate America to join the fight to redeem the soul of America,” he said. “We call upon the NFL to move Super Bowl LVII from Arizona and refuse to invest in states that intend to limit access to the ballot.”
The Independent has requested comment from the NFL.
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