Democrats May Need To Change Their Voting Rights Bill If They Want It To Pass

Even senators who nominally support the bill are open to amending it in order to advance voting rights.

With Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) firmly against his party’s bill to block states from curtailing voting rights, Democrats’ legislative priority looks doomed ahead of a key vote later this month.

But it’s not just Manchin who has concerns about the bill. Sen. Angus King of Maine, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, said Sunday that he doesn’t support the legislation in its current form, even though he’s a co-sponsor.

“I think there are things that can be modified,” King said on CNN.

Even the left-leaning editorial board of The New York Times argued over the weekend that Democrats should pass a narrower bill, calling their current proposal “poorly matched to the moment,” adding that it “attempts to accomplish more than is currently feasible.”

The “For the People Act” would set minimum standards for ballot access, such as automatic registration and no-excuse mail voting, which would disallow the changes Republican-led state legislatures are making. But the bill would also change campaign finance and lobbying laws ― less of a priority for King.

“The important part for me is protecting voting rights,” King said in his interview with CNN. “And I think that’s becoming more urgent by the day, based upon what’s going on around in the states.”

Since the 2020 election, more than a dozen states have passed laws making it harder to vote, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, as Republican lawmakers institutionalize former President Donald Trump’s lies about his 2020 election loss.

Manchin’s problem with the For the People Act is less the bill itself than the fact that no Republican supports it. He has argued that changes to federal voting laws have to be made in a bipartisan way, even though many GOP-led states have changed how they run their elections on a partisan basis. He wrote in West Virginia’s Charleston Gazette-Mail over the weekend that “voting and election reform that is done in a partisan manner will all but ensure partisan divisions continue to deepen.”

Manchin’s opinion piece signaled his final refusal to budge on the bill ahead of a Senate floor vote that Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) vowed to schedule for later this month. Without Manchin, Democrats wouldn’t have the 50 votes they’d need to pass the bill even if they changed Senate filibuster rules. Unless Schumer, who is up for reelection next year, wants to hold a vote just to watch the bill go down, Democrats will probably need to make some changes.

“If [Manchin] would accept some parts of it, some elements of it that we think are important, that could be a step forward,” Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said Monday.

Other Democrats expressed frustration with Manchin, arguing that Democrats should hold a vote regardless in order to keep the focus on state-level GOP efforts to restrict voting.

“I was somewhat saddened ― more than somewhat ― to see his op-ed,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said of Manchin. “We just need to keep pushing, ultimately, to vote.”

King suggested the bill’s voting provisions are more urgent than its campaign finance or lobbying changes ― but those are probably the most popular provisions of the legislation.

Aside from maybe ditching the bill’s provisions that would provide for public financing of elections and more disclosure requirements for lobbyists, King suggested the bill should actually be more aggressive in one respect: provisions to prevent state legislatures from getting involved in certifying election results. Georgia’s new voting law, for instance, shifted power from the secretary of state to the state legislature, which will be able to suspend local election officials.

“A lot of states are considering changes that the legislature could essentially overturn the results of an election in their state,” King said. “I’m worried that they’re going to turn that over and say, OK, a Republican legislature can say, we think there was fraud in Fulton County, and, therefore, we’re going to certify a different set of electors.”

Sen. Raphael Warnock, a Georgia Democrat who faces reelection next year in a state whose Republican governor approved much-criticized voting changes earlier this year, expressed optimism that Manchin would eventually come around and that Congress would take some kind of action.

“We talked last night,” Warnock said Monday evening. “We’re going to find a way forward. We have no other choice.”

“I think that Joe Manchin understands that this is a defining moment in American history and that our children are going to judge us, our grandchildren are going to judge us, based on what we do right now to preserve our democracy,” he added.

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