I was appalled when reading the op-ed that Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., wrote in the Gazette-Mail stating his opposition to the For the People Act (HR.1/S.1). If he does not change his stance, it will go down in American history as one of the most cowardly and myopic stances, both politically and in terms of public policy, ever taken by a U.S. senator.
Despite the intransigence of Senate Republicans, the For the People Act has overwhelming bipartisan support in West Virginia and across the country, including overwhelming majorities among Democrats, independents and Republicans. An End Citizens United/Let America Vote Action Fund survey, the results of which were published first in Newsweek, found that 79% of West Virginians polled supported the bill, including 76% of registered Republicans.
Part of the reason for this support is that many of the main provisions of the For the People Act have nonpartisan/bipartisan origins and have been passed by both Republican and Democrat legislatures, according to a Citizens for Responsibility & Ethics in Washington report from February.
Maybe the most confusing thing about Manchin’s stance is that he supported the For the People Act in the last Congress and has been quoted as saying, “inaction is not an option” when it comes to voting rights. To date, Manchin’s concerns with the For the People Act are on process. Process should not stand in the way of protecting the right to vote, an essential civic duty.
Manchin supports passage of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and its application nationwide, but Rep. John Lewis wrote the first few hundred pages of the For the People Act — called the Voter Empowerment Act — and this bill is an important part of Lewis’ legacy. The Brennan Center for Justice has tracked at least 389 bills restricting voting rights in 48 states, all brought by Republican legislators. Twenty two of these bills have passed in 14 states and 31 passed at least one chamber. The For the People Act is the only legislation that can counteract these measures wholesale.
The 14th and 15th amendments to the U.S. Constitution passed on party-line votes, but under Manchin’s logic, Congress shouldn’t have passed those amendments because they weren’t bipartisan. The filibuster is an invention of Aaron Burr centuries ago that was abused by Dixiecrat segregationists to try to stop the Civil Rights Act in the 1960s. Manchin is continuing that legacy by naively clinging to this Jim Crow procedural holdover in an effort to encourage a kind of bipartisanship that has become the stuff of fiction with today’s GOP.
To quote Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., “It is a contradiction to say we must protect minority rights in the Senate while refusing to protect minority rights in our society.” The restrictive voting measures being passed in state legislatures around the country by the Republican Party target Black, Indigenous and other people of color, first and foremost.
Manchin has a decision to make: He can side with American democracy for all, or he can side with the endlessly obstructionist Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., caucus. What’ll it be, Joe?