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Manchin lays out wish list for election reform bill

U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin records a video for constituents in his Capitol Hill office. (Photo by Steven Allen Adams)

CHARLESTON — With a vote expected next week on an election reform bill, U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin laid out a pathway for the bill to gain his support Wednesday.

The Democratic Senator from West Virginia released a list Wednesday afternoon of the items he would like to see in S.1, the For the People Act, the comprehensive election, voting rights, and campaign finance reform bill.

“The right to vote is fundamental to our American democracy and protecting that right should not be about party or politics,” Manchin said. “Congressional action on federal voting rights legislation must be the result of both Democrats and Republicans coming together to find a pathway forward or we risk further dividing and destroying the republic we swore to protect and defend as elected officials.”

Manchin’s wish includes making Election Day a public holiday, banning partisan gerrymandering of legislative districts and requiring the use of computer modeling, requiring voter identification with multiple alternative forms of identifications, and requiring states to send absentee ballots by mail to eligible voters before an election if the voter is unable to vote in-person during early voting or Election Day due to certain circumstances along with civil penalties for failure to send the absentee ballot.

In a June 6 guest column in the Charleston Gazette-Mail and in Sunday TV news appearances that same day, Manchin said he would vote against the current version of the For the People Act if no Republicans would support the bill. Manchin also said he would protect the filibuster, a parliamentary procedure in the U.S. Senate that allows a vote to be blocked, requiring 60 out of 100 members to vote to lift the filibuster.

“I believe that partisan voting legislation will destroy the already weakening bonds of our democracy, and for that reason, I will vote against the For the People Act,” Manchin said in his guest column. “Furthermore, I will not vote to weaken or eliminate the filibuster. For as long as I have the privilege of being your U.S. senator, I will fight to represent the people of West Virginia, to seek bipartisan compromise no matter how difficult and to develop the political bonds that end divisions and help unite the country we love.”

Ryan Frankenberry, state director for the West Virginia Working Families Party, was pleased that Manchin was changing his stance on the bill. When reading Manchin’s op-ed, Frankenberry said Manchin never opposed specific provisions of the bill. Frankenberry sees Manchin’s list as a good sign that he is willing to vote for the bill.

“We are encouraged,” Frankenberry said. “We’re excited to see (Senate Democratic) leadership work with that list … to see if there are other policy changes that can help move Senator Manchin, but also potentially help move some Republican senators.”

Other supporters of the For the People Act are skeptical the bill will receive Republican support. Wayne County native and former House of Delegates Majority Leader Rick Staton and Charleston City Council member Becky Ceperley, both Democrats, said the bill shouldn’t be a partisan issue.

“Bipartisanship is good, but this is a nonpartisan bill,” said Ceperley, a former president of the League of Women Voters. “This bill shouldn’t affect any party. It’s a nonpartisan bill. It doesn’t need to be bipartisan, it’s a nonpartisan bill for the voters, for the people and to make democracy accessible to them.”

“I admire his push for bipartisanship, I would like to see more of that across the board,” Staton said. “But if that’s his mark or for passing any legislation, then I’m afraid nothing’s going to get done.”

Speaking last week to reporters, U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., expressed reservations about whether the For the People Act would garner support among her Republican colleagues. In a floor speech Wednesday afternoon, she likened the For the People Act to a big-government power grab, taking control from state and local elections officials.

“Let’s be clear everyone — Republicans, Democrats — we all want to see more people voting,” Capito said. “The good news is we’ve already been doing that across the country in my home State of West Virginia … if more people are — in fact — voting, what is this Democratic-proposed legislation really about? It’s about the federalization of elections and an election power-grab, and I believe it lacks credibility.”

Steven Allen Adams can be reached at sadams@newsandsentinel.com.

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