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Sep. 14—U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin has proposed changes to the "For the People Act" that should assure support from fellow moderate Democrats, but with enough substance to protect access to the vote and counter laws passed by Republican-controlled state legislatures that would restrict that access.
But Manchin's efforts will be for naught if he remains unwilling to moderate filibuster rules to get voting protections passed. Rolling Stone magazine reports that President Biden, in an effort to push past the filibuster and get voting protection legislation passed, has told congressional leaders he is ready to lobby Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, another Democrat from a conservative state reluctant to mess with the filibuster.
Stopping a filibuster requires 60 of the Senate's 100 votes. Democrats control 50 seats. They prevail in a 50-50 vote because Vice President Kamala Harris, a Democrat, breaks a tie. No voting protection legislation will get 10 Republican votes, and it may get zero.
Manchin's hesitation to bypass the filibuster is understandable. If the West Virginia senator appears to be steamrolling the Republican minority to do the bidding of his party's liberal wing, that will not play well in his conservative state, where he has bucked the odds to keep winning as a Democrat. Manchin also knows that when Democrats are again in the minority, they will want a filibuster to protect against Republican legislative dominance.
But failing to push pass the filibuster to get these reasonable voting reforms passed would prove to be a terrible mistake.
State Republican lawmakers have rationalized their changes in voting laws on the Big Lie that there was widespread corruption in the 2020 election favoring Democrats and particularly President Joe Biden. Their "reforms" focus on urban and minority communities that are the chief targets of their baseless claims of voting fraud. The true intention is to repress voting in communities likely to favor Democrats.
According to the Brennan Center for Justice, as of mid-July, 18 states enacted 30 laws that restrict access to the vote. These laws make mail voting and early voting more difficult, impose voter ID requirements more likely to be a problem for poor and transient residents, and allow targeted purging of voter rolls.
Further, congressional district lines are about to be drawn based on the 2020 census. Republicans have full control of 23 state governments — holding both legislative chambers and the governorship — Democrats only 15. Republicans will use that dominance to manipulate district lines, called gerrymandering, and assure enough GOP safe districts to retain control for the coming decade.
And because every state elects two senators, small states get disproportionate power in that critical legislative body. Those smaller states tend more conservative and Republican. This is why the Senate is split 50-50 even though Democratic senators received about 20 million more votes last November.
If Senate Democrats, because of fealty to the filibuster, allow Republican state legislatures to repress the vote and manipulate voting district lines, they are enabling Republicans to enjoy an unfair advantage in future elections and to expand their ability to rule despite their continued minority status among American voters.
The safeguards proposed by Manchin in his counter proposal to the original For the People Act are hardly radical. They seek fairness, not an advantage. They mandate at least 15 consecutive days of early voting for federal elections. Election Day would become a holiday. Nonpartisan panels would draw voting district lines. Unlike the original bill, Manchin's version would require voter identification rules, but make them standard and reasonable, allowing presentation of a utility bill with name and address, for example.
Manchin's counter proposal upsets some in his party because of the ID rule and because it does not take on the issue of purging voting rolls, leaving claims of unfairness up to the courts. It also does not include wholesale campaign finance reforms, as did the original legislation, though it does improve campaign funding disclosure rules. Whatever its perceived faults, it is far better than inaction.
It is reasonable to carve out an exception to the filibuster rule to protect voting rights. Alternatively, as the president has suggested, Democrats could unite to require an actual talking filibuster, rather than the virtual filibuster that now exists. That would make Senate Republicans keep yapping if they want to block action on the voter-friendly reforms.
Connecticut's senators, Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, both Democrats, should do all they can to persuade their colleagues to move this critical legislation forward. Seize the opportunity.
The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Izaskun E. Larrañeta, staff writer Erica Moser and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.