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Apr. 30—FAIRMONT — Former Secretary of State Natalie Tennant led a gathering of current and former state legislators and other members of the local community to stir support for a sweeping federal election law reform bill now under consideration: the For the People Act.
The House of Representatives passed its version March 3 along party lines in a 220-210 vote with one Democrat crossing the aisle. The Senate version is still under discussion following Rules Committee hearings on March 24.
"The For the People Act is the strength and stability we need to assure we have fair representation, " Tennant said. "It makes sure voting options are equally accessible across the country."
While opponents consider it a federal takeover of elections, she said, it's really not. Prior federal election measures are what broke down election barriers and help make democracy available to all.
She cited some examples: the 1965 Voting Rights Act, the 1993 National Voter Registration Act and the 2002 Help America Vote Act that set guidelines for election administration as a response to the 2000 Florida election problems. "We know the For the People Act benefits all Americans no matter their party affiliation, " she said.
The bill runs nearly 900 pages. It establishes independent redistricting commissions in each state, sets windows and provisions for early and absentee voting, establishes automatic voter registration, requires dark money PACS to disclose their largest donors and where online ad spending is coming from and closes foreign influence loopholes, among many other things.
Jeff Anderson, Communications Workers of American state council president said the union has been involved in crafting it from the beginning. "The need for a strong, fair Democracy is more urgent now than ever before."
Efforts by various states for stricter voter ID requirements, cuts to early voting windows, polling place closures all amount to voter suppression, he said. The bill's reforms would provide necessary flexible voting options to assure the CWA members and others who work odd hours and on election day have adequate access to the polls, he said. "I and the other 647, 000 other CWA members are 100 % behind it."
Delegate Joey Garcia, D-Marion, referenced West Virginia's SB 565, which died in House Judiciary at the end of the recent legislative session and was considered by opponents to be a voter suppression bill because it shifted early voting dates, trimmed the period to eliminate inactive voters from the polls from four years to two and clarified that DMV voter registration is opt-in not opt-out — the method bill opponents prefer.
Of the For the People Act he said, "There's nothing that seems to be very extreme about this, other than protecting what we already have and making things we already agree are what's wrong with politics better."
To sell the act, he said, they need to show West Virginians this will benefit them.
The Dominion Post asked Sens. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., for their thoughts on the bill.
Capito submitted video and transcript of the March 24 Rules Committee hearing, where she questioned West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner.
She noted that Warner removed 313 outdated voter registrations while registering 246, 000 new voters, all without the act. "I think that we've tailored the way we want to get new and energetic voters on the rolls and get rid of the voters that are no longer eligible to vote."
The act, she said, would politicize the Federal Elections Commission by turning its current 3-3 Republican-Democrat composition into a 3-2 with two from each plus a chair appointed by the president, effective breaking any tie.
Capito polled Warner and the other four called witnesses about their views of the proposed change and after hearing them said, "I can't believe three out of the five witnesses think that it's a good idea to take a nonpartisan FEC commission and politicize it and make decisions about elections when you can use your majority vote to ram anything through. That, to me, is a major red flag in this legislation."
At the meeting, Tennant said the measure is aimed to end FEC deadlock that makes it ineffectual.
Warner testified that the act will disenfranchise voters with disabilities and in the military by eliminating electronic voting, something allowed in 31 states. "More than 1, 500 West Virginians voted electronically in the November 2020 general election, and this bill expressly strips them of that opportunity in the future."
The bill, Warner said, would require all states to spend enormous sums they can't afford to meet VVSG 2.0 (Voluntary Voting System Guidelines), which no current machines would meet.
Tennant said the act provides $1 billion for voting machine security.
Warner said West Virginia lacks the broadband access to allow for same-day voter registration at the polling places.
And, among other things, he said, it "will devastate West Virginia voters, local election officials, state agencies, and the confidence in our elections that we have worked tirelessly to build over the last several years. ... It federalizes our elections, combining our country's vastly complex and different processes and systems into a one-size-fits-all mandate. Not only is this unrealistic given our great diversity, geography, historical experiences, and lack of reliable high-speed broadband — it greatly reduces the security we now enjoy with 50 different election processes."
Manchin's office provided his recent statement on the bill. He favors many of its provisions: at least 15 days, including two weekend days, of early voting ; election security and dark money disclosures.
But he wants bipartisan agreement, he said. "Instead of arguing about the election reforms on which we disagree, Congress should be working together to enact those on which we can agree. ... Pushing through legislation of this magnitude on a partisan basis may garner short-term benefits, but will inevitably only exacerbate the distrust that millions of Americans harbor against the U.S. government. 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."
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