ABC News is reporting that Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia is going to block any and all efforts to pass the For the People Act. Instead, he says, he will support the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. Since the Democrats need Manchin’s support if they’re going to change the filibuster rules to enact major voting rights legislation, and since the bill named after John Lewis is more of a corrective measure than a reform, this is effectively the end of the road. The country is utterly fucked.
Reading Manchin’s reasoning, I can understand where he’s coming from. He wants to bring the country together and the For the People Act would make the Republicans go absolutely apeshit insane. And I understand what’s going on in West Virginia, too. Just today, a Democratic member of the state’s House of Delegates switched his affiliation to Republican.
In a statement, [Del. Mick] Bates noted the dramatic increase in Republican voter registrations in Raleigh County — a 30 percent swing in the last three years — as part of the motivation for his party affiliation change.
According to data from the West Virginia Secretary of State’s office, Republicans outnumber Democrats in the state 433,287 to 408,572. In Raleigh County, which includes the district Bates represents, 18,668 Republicans outnumber the 15,272 registered Democrats.
He also pointed to public perception of national politics and what he sees as the West Virginia Democratic Party aligning more closely with prominent national Democrats.
“There used to be a difference between the way West Virginia Democrats and Washington Democrats were viewed. People no longer see that difference,” Bates said. “At a national level, the controlling interests and leadership of the Democratic Party continue to pursue positions that alienate voters in rural parts of the country and do not reflect the priorities, values or beliefs of the people of West Virginia. This is not changing and appears to be getting worse, not better.”
Manchin sees all this. He feels the same pressure. He knows he can’t afford to be seen as indistinguishable from the national party or standard Beltway Democrats. I’m glad he’s still trying to find a way forward for himself that doesn’t involve becoming a Republican. And let’s be clear about one thing. Once Manchin’s Senate seat falls to the GOP, it’s not coming back in our lifetimes, so this isn’t just about Manchin’s personal career or ambitions.
But he’s still screwing the country because the John Lewis Voting Rights Act is a necessary but totally inadequate piece of legislation. The bill would restore the full protections of the original Voting Rights Act of 1965 that were annihilated in 2013 by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Robert’s 5-4 Shelby County v. Holder ruling. It would make it harder for some states to change their voting laws if they have a history of Jim Crow voting restrictions. The For the People Act would go a lot further.
The nearly 800-page For the People Act does do a whole lot of things — far too many to list here — but it’s mostly oriented around trying to help solve five somewhat distinct problems that Democrats and “good government” reformers have long worried about: (1) voting accessibility, (2) gerrymandering of the US House of Representatives, (3) the influence of big and dark money on elections, (4) election security, and (5) ethics in the federal government.
The most fundamental of these goals is voting accessibility because nothing else matters if you can’t vote. And it’s access to the polls that the Republicans are attacking most directly right now, most egregiously is legislation recently passed in Georgia and Florida, and under consideration in Texas and other states. The John Lewis bill could help here in states covered by the Voting Rights Act, but only in those states. And it would do nothing about the other four items on the list. That’s why the Brennan Center correctly insists that the For the People Act must pass.
The current assault on voting rights across the country underscores the urgency of reform. Even though our democratic institutions survived an attempt to overturn the result of the 2020 election, unscrupulous state legislators have seized on the disinformation that fueled this attempt to introduce an alarming number of regressive bills aimed at restricting access to the ballot, including by sharply restricting access to mail ballots, cutting back on early voting, and slashing voter registration opportunities. To date, more than 360 bills to restrict voting access have been proposed in 47 states. These measures target and will disproportionately harm voters of color, young voters, and voters with disabilities.
The For the People Act is extremely comprehensive–effectively a wish list of every progressive voting reform idea–and not everything in the bill is essential. But without it’s core protections against voter registration purges, onerous registration requirements, access to no-excuse early, absentee and mail voting, signature matching and Voter ID schemes, and unreasonable wait times at the polls, the Republicans will succeed in erasing people’s most fundamental right–the right to vote.
January 6 was a wake-up call, and Joe Manchin is oversleeping. The insurrection isn’t over. It’s not going to stop.
He says that the John Lewis Voting Rights Act has bipartisan support and can pass, but I don’t believe that either. The Republicans aren’t interested in making it easier for anyone to vote. I don’t know how Manchin can possibly be confused about this.