Sen. Manchin Holds Competing Positions on Voting Rights. He Can’t Have Both.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) made news Sunday morning when he said he wouldn’t vote for the popular For the People Act (S.1) without support from Senate Republicans. We respect Joe Manchin’s record of supporting the right to vote and his commitment to limiting the influence of Big Money in politics, but the position he has staked out on S.1 is conflicting and irreconcilable.

As a co-sponsor of the same bill last Congress, Manchin’s concerns with S.1 remain on the process, not the substance. That has led him to two diametrically opposed, competing positions: that we should protect the right to vote and that we must pass a bill with 10 Republicans.

We share Manchin’s desire for bipartisanship on voting rights, but as he has proven with his own proposal to modify the Voting Rights Act, there are not 10 Republicans willing to do the right thing. In fact, the bill to create a Jan. 6 commission, which he also cited as an example of bipartisanship, also failed to gain the support of 10 Republicans.

When Manchin comes to the realization that Republicans in the Senate are not acting in good faith, he is going to have to decide whether he is truly committed to protecting everyone’s freedom to vote — because that fundamental right is under attack across the country.

Our nation has a history of protecting the freedom to vote without bipartisan support when one of the parties itself is posing the threat to voting. It is how we passed the 15th Amendment, which protects the right to vote for all Americans regardless of race.

The threat today are the restrictive voting bills Republicans are jamming through states across the country at an unprecedented rate. These bills are completely partisan, and we have already seen at least 22 bills become law in 14 states, threatening the core of free and fair elections. The For the People Act would mitigate the damage caused by these laws.

Despite the intransigence of Senate Republicans, polling shows the For the People Act has broad bipartisan support in West Virginia and across the country, including overwhelming majorities of Democrats, Republicans and independents. That is in part because many of the main provisions of the bill have nonpartisan and bipartisan origins, and were passed by Republican and Democratic state legislatures.

In addition to S.1, we also must pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act to protect against future efforts to roll back voting rights. That critically important bill, however, will not retroactively apply to counteract the restrictive voting bills that have already passed in the states. We need both of these bills.

While Manchin’s quest for bipartisanship is noble, restricting the right to vote is not. The time is quickly approaching for the senator from West Virginia to come to the realization that there is a partisan attack on voting rights such as we have not seen since Jim Crow — and that members of the party that is executing that attack will not vote with him on a bill to blunt it. As he has stated about this issue, “inaction is not an option.” We couldn’t agree more.


Tiffany Muller is president of End Citizens United/Let America Vote Action Fund.

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