Manchin seeking bipartisan election reform

AP PhotoSen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., leaves the Senate chamber following a procedural vote on the nomination of Xavier Becerra, President Joe Biden's pick to be Secretary of Health and Human Services, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, March 11, 2021. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

washington — Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., is once again in the national spotlight, and once again he is insisting on bipartisan support for a controversial piece of legislation.

This time it is the For the People Act (S.1), which includes a host of voting-rights legislation in an attempt to thwart Republican efforts on state levels to add restrictions on voting.

Those S.1 items include gerrymandering reform, improvements in voter registration, assurances that citizens can vote by mail, preventing the purge of voter rolls and public financing of congressional elections.

With a 50-50 split in the Senate, Manchin continues to be pivotal on whether Democrats can get legislation through with no GOP support.

Manchin released a statement last week explaining his position on the For the People Act.

“Even though our democratic institutions have survived foreign interference and a violent attempt to enter the United States Capitol during the counting of Electoral College votes, America’s declining trust in the government and each other makes it harder to solve key problems,” he said. “That trust will continue to diminish unless we, as members of Congress, transcend partisanship to strengthen our democracy by protecting voting rights, implementing common sense election security reforms, and making our campaign finance system more transparent.”

Manchin makes it clear he understands how crucial it is to maintain a “voting system that is accessible, free, fair, and secure,” but he is not satisfied with the total Democratic proposal.

“There are some legitimate concerns about the implementation of the For the People Act, especially in rural areas,” he said. “As a former Secretary of State, I know, firsthand, the importance of local decision-making around voter accessibility and election security. With that in mind, there are bipartisan proposals embedded in this bill that can strike the right balance and make great strides on each of these issues. Instead of arguing about the election reforms on which we disagree, Congress should be working together to enact those on which we can agree.”

Manchin is most adamant about assuring voters the right to engage in early voting as well as making sure voters who have been historically left out of the process are not discriminated against.

“As our lives become more complex and dominated by technology, the notion of restricting voting to a single 8 or 12-hour timeframe is not indicative of how most voters live,” he said of Republican attempts in some states to tighten the timeframe of when residents can vote and how they vote. “Expanding voter access to the polls by requiring at least fifteen days, including two weekend days, of early voting in every state will increase turnout and help individuals, especially those who have traditionally not been able to participate, cast their votes. We can also do more to help those groups that have been historically disenfranchised and underrepresented in our federal elections through bipartisan solutions like those included in the Native American Voting Rights Act that would authorize additional, dedicated resources for Native American and Alaska Native voters.”

Manchin also is keen on have a voting process that is technologically secure of any foreign interference, supporting provisions in the act that address this issue.

He wants election finance reform as well.

“Of course, we cannot discuss election integrity and public trust without mentioning the disturbing role money plays in our democracy,” he said. “Since the Citizens United Supreme Court case, unlimited amounts of dark money have allowed anonymous parties to flood the airwaves with negative advertisements. More recently, the lack of transparency in many campaign finance rules provides multiple avenues for foreign and national adversaries to meddle in the American political system. Now, more and more lawmakers spend their time dialing for dollars, instead of legislating for their constituents.”

As he did with the American Rescue Plan, Manchin concludes with his bipartisanship pledge.

“We can and we must reform our federal elections together – not as Democrats and Republicans, but as Americans to restore the faith and trust in our democracy,” he said.

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., with whom Manchin has maintained a respectful and cooperative relationship, said last week she opposes the bill, with one of the reasons a matter of states’ rights.

“All of us want to have the ability to participate in our elections and our democracy and great faith in this, and not be disenfranchised,” she said. “We’ve heard from Michigan and Indiana and West Virginia that certain things are working in their states – great, if things are working in their states we should keep doing that… We’ve tailored the way we want to get new and energetic voters on our rolls and get rid of the voters that are no longer eligible to vote.”

Capito also said the bill “would put the federal government in charge of state elections, use federal dollars to subsidize campaigns, politicize the Federal Elections Commission (FEC), and prevent states like West Virginia from maintaining election integrity through various safeguards like voter ID laws.”

While both Manchin and Capito addressed only certain provisions of the act, West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner, who testified at a Senate Rules Committee meeting on the bill last week, agreed with Capito on her concerns and also localized the impact of the bill.

“West Virginia County Clerks’ Association Chairwoman Linda Huggins told me county clerks were against S.1 because the deadlines cannot be met, the requirements are not achievable, no machines in existence meet the mandates, and the bill contains unreasonable prescriptions for election administration,” he told the committee. “All the clerks cited the unfunded mandates as showstoppers for S.1.”

Warner said the guidelines in the 800-page document cannot be followed by states.

“S.1 forces the states in our nation to follow arbitrary guidelines, most of which are impossible or unattainable under the deadlines,” he said. “S.1 will create chaos in our elections’ processes, further divide our country, and will have no greater effect than destroying the foundation of our country.”

With 49 of his fellow Democrats on board with the recently passed American Rescue Plan, Manchin held out for some changes that the GOP wanted. Although no Senate Republican voted for the plan, the changes made that Manchin insisted on did provide a bipartisan aspect.

The complicated For the People Act leaves Manchin in the same position. But so far Manchin has provided his support for only a few items in the bill with many more left to debate. As he said, some of those items may have GOP support.

Email: cboothe@bdtonline.com

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