Reviews | Joe Manchin got the ballot bill he wanted. It’s time to pass it.

Far too many Republicans are the actors in a cynical pantomime: They say the new voting restrictions enacted across the country are designed only to thwart widespread voter fraud, when in reality there is no such thing as widespread fraud and that the purpose of the new restrictions is to frustrate and disadvantage voters who lean for Democrats, especially minority voters, young people, and low-income voters.

Are the Democrats going to do something about it? We will find out soon.

Republicans in Congress have repeatedly rejected measures to make voting fairer, more accessible and more secure. State after state, the party has spent this year pushing through laws that tighten access to ballots – at least for some groups – and make the system more vulnerable to partisan interference.

This anti-democratic (and anti-democratic) agenda started before President Donald Trump, but it has supercharged it. Now the former president and his supporters – who tried unsuccessfully to overturn the last election by lying about fraud and trying to force state officials and Congress to overturn electoral votes – have continued their crusade against democracy at national and local levels. In the recall election against Gov. Gavin Newsom of California, Republicans began circulating false allegations of fraud long before the votes were counted. “Does anyone really believe that the California recall election is not rigged?” Mr. Trump indicted Monday, the day before election day. Urging voters to beware of the system and reject the result if they don’t like it has become standard operating procedure for the GOP

On Tuesday, Senate Democrats introduced a reform bill to curb the madness. The Freedom to Vote Act, introduced by Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, would correct long-standing flaws in the electoral system as well as some of the Republicans’ recent machinations. It is a sort of compromise proposal, developed by a coalition of moderates and progressives after a more radical reform bill, the For the People Act, was blocked. in June by a Republican filibuster. This lean package throws away some of the more controversial elements of the previous plan. This would not, for example, restructure the Federal Election Commission or mandate the use of non-partisan commissions for the redistribution of Congress. It is nonetheless an ambitious and urgent fix to the Republicans’ continued assault on the franchise.

Package provisions range from making polling day a public holiday to protecting local election officials from partisan interference. The partisan gerrymandering and caging voters, a summary method of purging the electoral lists, would be prohibited. Same-day voter registration would be available in all states, as would automatic voter registration systems. A 30-minute waiting period would be imposed for in-person voting, and uniform and flexible identification requirements would be established in states that require voter IDs. The list goes on.

Federal voting protections would not only protect voters in the Red States. Blue and purple states with less liberal standards should also improve their game. For example, neither Connecticut nor New Hampshire currently plans to advance voting in person, and New Hampshire does not have online voter registration either. Wisconsin has a strict photo ID law. New York does not have same-day voter registration (although voters have the possibility of moving to change that in November). Federal standards would serve all voters in all states and in all electoral nuances.

“Put simply, if the new bill is enacted, more citizens will be able to register to vote, vote in person and by mail, and have their votes counted,” said Marc Elias, one of the Democrats’ main voting rights legal champions. “And, those of us who fight suppression laws in court will have the tools to achieve swift and consistent victories for voters when states break the law.”

Merits aside, the prospects for the new bill are fragile to say the least. To avoid filibuster death, he needs the support of all 50 Democrats and 10 Republicans. In the absence of this, Democrats will be faced with a difficult choice: to let this crucial legislation die or to remove the legislative obstruction in order to pass the bill in a party line vote.

It’s at least a better dilemma than the one the Democrats faced over the summer, when they didn’t even have their entire caucus on board. While 49 Democratic senators supported the For the People Act, one, West Virginia’s Joe Manchin, opposed it. As a conservative Democrat representing a dark red state that Mr. Trump won by nearly 40 points last year, Mr. Manchin’s political priorities often clash with those of his fellow Democrats. But while some elements of the For the People Act made Mr Manchin uncomfortable, his main objection was that it lacked buy-in from Republicans.

“The right to vote is fundamental to our American democracy and the protection of that right should not be about parties or politics,” Mr. Manchin wrote in a June 6 opinion piece in the Charleston Gazette-Mail. “I believe that partisan voting legislation will destroy the already weakened ties of our democracy, and for this reason, I will vote against the law for the people.”

He then spoke out against those who wanted him to help remove filibuster to pass the bill. “The truth is, there is a better way,” he insisted, “if we seek to find it together.”

Bipartism is a big deal for Mr Manchin – not surprisingly, as his job security depends on his appeal to voters who generally support the other party. He is correct that even in today’s Senate there can be agreement in areas where both parties are committed to making progress. Take the bill to make the United States more competitive with China that passed in June with strong bipartisan support, or the $ 1 trillion infrastructure plan that passed with similar bipartisan support. last month.

But there are limits to bipartisanship, and the system comes up against those limits on the issue of voting rights. Yet Mr. Manchin continued his research. In June, he proposed an alternative framework for reform that he said was more promising bipartisan. Key Republicans quickly fired this.

Meanwhile, their colleagues in the United States are seizing the opportunity. Republican-controlled legislatures have already passed laws restricting access to ballots in at least 18 states. Texas Governor Greg Abbott recently signed a series of measures that the head of the Brennan Center for Justice, a think tank in New York City, called “the most extreme voting restrictions passed by legislatures this year.”

Undeterred, Manchin, at the behest of Senate leaders, met with colleagues to develop the revised plan that is now on the table.

After waiting for Mr Manchin to support a bill, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is now eager to move forward. He says a vote on the new package could take place within a week.

Mr Schumer has also made it clear that he considers the time has come for Mr Manchin to try to get all the bipartisan support possible. “He has always said he wanted to try to get Republicans on board, and now, with the support of Democrats and this compromise bill – to which Senator Manchin was a big contributor – he can move forward on that. regard, “Schumer said Tuesday. .

No one expects Mr. Manchin’s bet to succeed. But if his serious engagement with Republicans fails, where does the senator go from there? Will he just shrug his shoulders and sacrifice the right to vote on the altar of bipartisanship? Will he bow to a minority party pursuing undemocratic measures to advance his partisan fortune? “The senator continues to work with his bipartisan colleagues to protect the right to vote of every American while restoring the confidence of the American people in our democracy,” replied a spokesperson for Mr. Manchin.

Bipartism can be a means to an end. But when voting rights are dragged back by a party, bipartisanship cannot be an excuse for inaction.

President Biden is said to be ready to join the fray. “Chuck, you tell me when you need me to start making phone calls,” he urged Mr. Schumer recently, according to Rolling stone.

Now, Mr. Speaker, it is time to act boldly. Make those calls. Host those Oval Office conversations with Mr. Manchin and any other Democrats who might still need persuading. Bring all the persuasive powers and clout of the office to this issue before further damage is done.

After losing the White House and Senate last year, Republicans appear determined to rig the game in their favor before the mid-term. Protecting the integrity of the US electoral system and the voting rights of its citizens should be the # 1 priority – not because it helps Democrats, but because it helps preserve democracy.

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