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Sen. Joe Manchin said he would not support the For the People Act, which would create national voting standards, making it difficult for supporters to propel the legislation forward.
A key Democratic senator said he will not vote for a massive elections overhaul proposal that seeks to standardize many elements of early voting and voter registration across the United States.
In an announcement that likely dooms the elections bill, Sen. Joe Manchin, a conservative Democrat from West Virginia, outlined his opposition to the For the People Act in an op-ed published Sunday in the Charleston Gazette.
“Voting and election reform that is done in a partisan manner will all but ensure partisan divisions continue to deepen,” Manchin wrote.
The bill has no Republican support and Democrats have considered amending Senate rules to do away with the filibuster, which requires 60 votes in order to end debate before a simple majority can pass legislation.
In his op-ed, Manchin also reiterated that he would oppose any effort to weaken or eliminate the filibuster. In an evenly split Senate, that could imperil other elements of President Biden’s legislative agenda.
The For the People Act seeks to set basic national standards for processes around early and absentee voting—among its provisions, requiring states to offer 15 days of early voting and allow no-excuse absentee voting.
Democrats have said the legislation is necessary to stop a wave of new voting restrictions enacted by states this year. But Republicans said the bill amounts to a blatant power grab that overrides the expertise of state and local elections officials.
Partisan division over the bill was on display in the Senate last month during a committee markup.
Manchin defended his decision, writing that if ballot access rules are adopted on a party-line basis, the action stands to further politicize the basic right to vote.
“Whether it is state laws that seek to needlessly restrict voting or politicians who ignore the need to secure our elections, partisan policymaking won’t instill confidence in our democracy — it will destroy it,” Manchin wrote. “As such, congressional action on federal voting rights legislation must be the result of both Democrats and Republicans coming together to find a pathway forward or we risk further dividing and destroying the republic we swore to protect and defend as elected officials.”
West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner, a Republican, is among those opposed to the bill. Warner said Monday that because of the variety of needs in local communities, its local elections officials who are best poised to design rules for their elections, not the federal government.
“There isn’t anything in S1 that needs to be done at the federal level,” Warner said.
Warner pointed to one of the requirements in S1 that would have required states to offer same day voter registration on Election Day. The requirement supposes that voting precincts would have the broadband internet required to enter and verify voter registration information on site, Warner said, but that connectivity isn’t available across all parts of West Virginia.
“When you have 54 county clerks saying they are against S1, it’s pretty clear what is right for West Virginia,” Warner said.
Some elections experts have suggested that in light of the partisan divide over the For the People Act, lawmakers should turn their efforts to another bill that seeks to protect voter access— the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.
The bill would bring back the Justice Department’s oversight of voting laws in states with a history of racial discrimination or voter suppression—authority that was scuttled after a 2013 Supreme Court ruling.
“I don't think it's beyond the realm of possibility that this bill could create some bipartisan support,” Jessica Huseman, an elections expert and the editorial director of Votebeat told Politico last week.
The act has the support of only one Senate Republican thus far, Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, but Manchin said he supports the bill and is working with colleagues to gain more bipartisan backing.
Warner said he wasn’t familiar enough with the John Lewis legislation to know whether it would raise any concerns for his state’s election protocol.
Andrea Noble is a reporter with Route Fifty.