But, as Usual, Joe Manchin Plays an Over-Sized Role in the Process
It seems there is momentum among Senate Democrats for one more run, however difficult, before Christmas at getting a bill through to uphold voter
Even rogue Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin (W.Va.) seems cooperative. He forced a rewrite of Democratic voter rights proposals to make them more palatable to attract 10 Republican votes.
Now Manchin appears suddenly to be open to some adjustment to Senate filibuster rules to allow a majority vote on his compromise.
In October, Republicans voted as a unified bloc against the Manchin-led compromise bill. That forced discussion of a so-called carve-out of Senate rules to allow such a vote, but was handled in a way that would allow reconsideration.
As discussion over President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better proposals continue, some Democrats, led by Sen. Rafael Warnock (D-Ga.) are pushing the voter rights measures anew as achievable next week.
The sticking point is not only substantive but about the process. Manchin succeeded in getting fellow Democrats to alter the deliverables of a voter rights bill but failed to persuade any Republicans to sign on.
That points to a deal over allowing Democrats to act unilaterally, but Manchin also insists that procedural change be bipartisan as it was a week ago for agreement on raising the nation’s debt ceiling.
Politics About Politics
This being politics about, well, politics and elections, there are equal amounts of skepticism about motivation on all sides.
Republicans want to control actual elections and are pushing ahead in the red states to limit voting by mail or requiring special identification or cutting hours even as they press ahead with gerrymandering districts.
Democrats want a win before the end of the year and see time already pressing against their election interests for next fall.
The compromise Freedom to Vote Act would, among other things, establish Election Day as a national holiday; set national minimum standards for early voting and voting by mail; and created new requirements for groups not currently required to disclose their financial donors. It also included standards for states that require voter identification, something that has been a priority of Manchin.
The bill establishes minimum requirements for how states conduct federal elections. It expands voter registration; requires a minimum number of days and hours for early voting; and creates a nationwide right to vote by mail – something Republicans increasingly have been labeling as open to widespread fraud without evidence.
So, the bill would seek to roll back Republicans’ disenfranchisement schemes, forbidding states from requiring notarization or witnesses to vote by mail.
It buttresses mail voting practices by requiring states to count ballots cast by Election Day if they are received up to seven days after the election; to provide free postage for returned ballots; and to notify voters whose ballots are rejected due to a signature omission or mismatch with an easy way for voters to cure those ballots.
In like fashion, it addresses small, but important, details about voting that have been raised in the last few months.
An example is counting provisional ballots cast by eligible voters in the wrong precinct but in the correct county. Or imposing a 30-minute limit on wait times for in-person voting. Or requiring polling locations on college campuses.
Symbolism vs. Practical Rules
Not addressed are the underlying problems facing our counting and certification process or setting up enforcement procedures.
To prevent voter intimidation, it prevents frivolous challenges to voter qualifications, a clause that might undo strong provisions of the Georgia suppression law.
It bans the techniques being used to purge voters; restricts who can serve as a poll observer; and how close they can be to a voter, eight feet; and prevents states from outlawing food and water to voters waiting in line to vote.
Also, it broadens the list of acceptable IDs used in state voter eligibility rules.
It would provide increased protections for election workers and seeks to impose new standards prohibiting partisan gerrymandering. It also ensures that Republican efforts to rush new gerrymandered maps into place ahead of its passage will fail.
The original bills went further. The compromise effort, which still may go nowhere, falls beyond symbolic objection to the nationwide Republican voter restriction effort into listing out many practical steps to assure that more people can vote.
This collision over voting rights should not be coming to the fore only because the big spending bill is bogged down in debate.
What has driven the spreading campaign by Republican legislatures is a wrong-headed, baseless, protectionist and partisan view that winning matters more than preserving democracy.
But if this is what it takes to bring Manchin to the fight, bring it on.