Joe Manchin Says Voting Rights Bill Can Be Bipartisan. Republicans Aren't Interested.

Even the Republicans who occasionally work with Democrats seem hostile to expanding ballot access.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) has claimed that enough Republicans will support expanding voting rights that Democrats shouldn’t change Senate rules in order to pass the voting rights bill that has been their priority since winning full control of Congress.

There’s a catch though: Senate Republicans don’t seem particularly interested.

The “Gang of 10” Republicans that have negotiated with Manchin and other Democrats on various pieces of legislation say they oppose the For the People Act. In interviews this week, most sounded hostile to core parts of the bill, undermining Manchin’s central argument. Without 10 Republicans voting for the measure, it’s doomed.

The bill would reform campaign finance and ethics rules, and its voting rights expansions would mandate automatic, same-day and online voter registration; 15 days of early voting; no excuse absentee voting; limits on lines at polling locations; and a host of provisions providing voters with options of where to cast their ballots, including mobile voting locations and drop boxes.

The bill’s ballot access provisions would set a national floor for voting access that would avoid a lot of the supposed confusion around electoral processes that occurred during the coronavirus pandemic in 2020.

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) said he has spoken to Manchin about the For The People Act, but he remains opposed to the main elements of it, characterizing them as “Washington ... saying, you know, there’s a one-size-fits-all plan for every state.”

“My principle would be, make it easy to vote, like it’s hard to cheat, but don’t federalize the system,” Portman said. “A lot of the states have come with practices that work best for them.”

When asked if there were individual voting provisions they could support, such as automatic registration, his fellow Gang of 10 members demurred. Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) said simply that he’d be willing to look at Manchin’s ideas.

“I would like to see us make it easier for people to vote, and make it harder to cheat,” Romney said.

When it comes to voting rights, Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) parroted the often-used Republican phrase, "Make it easier to vote but harder to cheat."
When it comes to voting rights, Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) parroted the often-used Republican phrase, "Make it easier to vote but harder to cheat."
Tom Williams via Getty Images

“Make it easier to vote but harder to cheat” is a slogan Republicans in Georgia and elsewhere have used to champion new restrictions on voting in the wake of Donald Trump’s election loss, which the ex-president has falsely blamed on fraud. There is no evidence of mass voter or election fraud that would necessitate concerns about “cheating” in any recent midterm or presidential election cycle.

In a very brief hallway interview on Wednesday, Manchin said he did think he was making progress with Republicans on the issue. “We’re talking,” he told HuffPost.

Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Jerry Moran (R-Kansas.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) said they hadn’t spoken to him about the voting bill, nor did they cite any provisions in the bill that they support.

“I know that I am strongly opposed to H.R. 1 as written,” Moran said, referring to the For the People Act by the legislation number of the House version of the bill, which passed in March.

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), another of the Republicans open to negotiating on legislation with Democrats, said she didn’t know what Manchin had in mind. HuffPost asked if she supported automatic or same-day registration; she said West Virginia has a good motor voter law. (West Virginia has a form of automatic voter registration through its DMV services, although Republicans in the state legislature are currently working to gut it.)

“Same-day registration, I think, should be at the discretion of the state and I personally don’t agree with that,” Capito said.

Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.), another Gang of 10 member, said all he needs to know about the bill is that it changes the Federal Election Commission from a six-member body consisting of three Democrats and three Republicans to a five-member body with a partisan majority.

“Turning the Federal Election Commission into a partisan body is all I need to know,” Young said. “I’m done with it. I don’t spend a lot of time discussing it with my colleagues.”

These Republicans are the few who are even open to negotiating compromises with the Democratic majority. The other 40 are uninterested in negotiation and firmly opposed to legislation like the For The People Act. Democrats would need at least 10 Republicans to pass some version of the For The People Act while maintaining the Senate’s current filibuster rules.

Most Senate Democrats want to change Senate rules so that the body can approve legislation without needing to overcome a filibuster, which requires 60 votes. A key reason many Democrats support changing the rule is so that they can pass the key voting reforms in the For The People Act, preempting some new voting restrictions imposed by the Republican-held state legislature in Georgi, versions of which are advancing in other states like Arizona, Florida, Michigan and New Hampshire.

Since Democrats control only 50 Senate seats, Manchin — who is both more conservative than most of his colleagues and hails from a state that voted for Trump by a nearly 40 point margin — can single-handedly block a change to the filibuster rule, which he’s argued shouldn’t be necessary for the For the People Act.

“There is also bipartisan support for voting reform and many of the initiatives outlined in the For the People Act,” Manchin wrote in a Washington Post op-ed explaining his opposition to changing the filibuster rule. He said he believes Republicans would support “efforts to expand voting hours and access, improve our election security and increase transparency in campaign finance and advertisement rules.”

Manchin has also said that Democrats shouldn’t pass the bill without Republican support because doing so would alienate Trump supporters — hundreds of whom attacked the Capitol in January as Congress tried to certify the 2020 election result.

Freshman Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) told HuffPost that he’s talked to Manchin about the For the People Act and the West Virginia Democrat “understands we gotta pass voting rights.”

“The ball is in the court of the Republicans. So let’s see what they do,” Warnock said. “There ought to be 10 Republican senators who believe in voting rights. If there are not, we’re going to pass it no matter what.”

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