Ciera Pennington: Reforms for fair voting, accountable elections deserve Sen. Manchin’s support

By By Ciera Pennington

Our nation’s presidential nominees have been selected, the conventions have come and gone, and political fervor is peaking. However, in all the ruckus, it’s easy to lose sight of the struggle for a true democracy being waged by ordinary citizens.

Over 50 years ago, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law. Our nation’s most effective civil rights legislation to date was gutted in 2013 by the Supreme Court Decision Shelby v. Holder. Today, we have a chance to restore our country’s voter integrity, ensuring that the foundational function of our democracy, the right to vote, operates without discrimination.

We are urging Sen. Joe Manchin to support the Voting Rights Advancement Act (S. 1659), as well as another crucial reform measure, the Fair Elections Now Act. One clamps down on discriminatory voting practices. The other works to reduce the influence of big money campaign donors and give voters the ability to support and elect candidates who are accountable to them.

Fair voting practice is currently under fire. Take Texas, the state responsible for bringing Shelby v. Holder to the Supreme Court. A federal appeals court recently ruled that strict voter identification laws discriminated against minorities, impeding their reasonable ability to vote. Shelby v. Holder ruled that additional scrutiny on states with histories of racial discrimination was both outdated and unnecessarily burdensome. But Texas is one of many states that proves such scrutiny is necessary. Systems of accountability are needed to ensure voting processes are equitable and just. The Voting Rights Advancement Act would implement such a system.

Fair voting processes and accountable elections go hand-in-hand. Reducing prospective candidates’ reliance on big donors and special interests through the implementation of small donor matching funds, the Fair Elections Now Act (S. 1538) would foster more accountable elections, and at the same time, help restore public confidence in the Congressional election process. It would also mean that more everyday Americans would be both inspired to run for office and participate in the process of both contributing to and supporting candidates. Like the Voting Rights Advancement Act, this crucial bill needs Sen. Manchin’s support.

We write today hoping Senator Manchin will support these two needed measures in the near future, but it would be disingenuous to not commend Sen. Manchin for his co-sponsorship of S.J. Res 5, the Democracy for All constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United, as well as his support of publicly financed elections at the state level while serving as governor and secretary of state.

Overturning Citizens United, which gave corporations an unprecedented grip on our political system, is part and parcel with the aforementioned measures currently being pushed in the Senate, and we urge Sen. Manchin to move on these critical reforms to fix a democratic system that no longer functions as such.

Ciera Pennington is the Field Director of WV Citizen Action Group, ciera@wvcag.org.

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