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US Senate unlikely to open debate on elections measure


CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The U.S. Senate will vote Tuesday on moving forward with a sweeping elections bill, although Republicans will likely filibuster the attempt to advance the legislation.

The Senate will vote to begin debate on the For the People Act, a top Democratic priority that would increase voter options and ensure access while also addressing gerrymandering and campaign financing.

Sixty senators have to approve opening debate on the measure, but Republicans are expected to block further action. The Senate is split between the Democratic and Republican caucuses, and Vice President Kamala Harris is responsible for delivering a tiebreaking vote if needed.

“Will our Republicans let it debate it?” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Monday on the Senate floor. “That’s the only question on the table for the United States Senate tomorrow, and we’re about to find out how my Republican colleagues will answer that question.”

The House of Representatives passed its version of the bill in March. West Virginia Reps. David McKinley, Alex Mooney and Carol Miller joined Republican colleagues in opposing the resolution.

Democrats have pushed the For the People Act as Republican-led state legislatures approved bills that voting rights groups argue would make it more difficult for minority people to vote. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, at least 14 states enacted 22 new laws that would restrict voting access, and 18 state legislatures are considering 61 bills with provisions limiting voting methods.

The Democratic push also comes amid former President Donald Trump’s ongoing challenge of the presidential election results, in which Trump and his allies have failed to provide evidence of voter fraud impacting the outcome.

“At the same time state legislatures are trying to restrict access to the ballot box, they’re also trying to weaken the ability of state courts to protect the rights of voters in election-related cases,” said Patrick Berry, a fellow and counsel in the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program.

“State legislatures and governors across the country have regularly targeted their state courts, often in retaliation for decisions they disagree with in an effort to politicize or undermine their independence. While we have been tracking these efforts over the years, what we’re seeing this year is a shocking new trend of state courts being targeted for their roles in safeguarding our democracy.”

Berry participated in a virtual town hall Monday focused on the elections bill as well as state legislative actions. West Virginia Citizens for Clean Election hosted the event, in which West Virginia AFL-CIO President Josh Sword and former state Delegate Sammi Brown also participated.

Brown called Congress’ consideration of the sweeping elections bill “truly historic.”

“On so many levels — regardless of where you align on the political spectrum — For the People Act addresses those concerns that have been brought up, particularly during the 2020 election,” she said.

Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., have already voiced their opposition to the proposal as presented. Manchin wrote an opinion piece in the Charleston Gazette-Mail earlier this month urging colleagues to work together on a bipartisan elections proposal.

“During my time as West Virginia’s secretary of state, I was determined to protect this right and ensure our elections are fair, accessible and secure. Not to benefit my party but all the people of West Virginia,” he wrote.

“Unfortunately, we now are witnessing that the fundamental right to vote has itself become overtly politicized. Today’s debate about how to best protect our right to vote and to hold elections, however, is not about finding common ground, but seeking partisan advantage. Whether it is state laws that seek to needlessly restrict voting or politicians who ignore the need to secure our elections, partisan policymaking won’t instill confidence in our democracy — it will destroy it.”

The Poor People’s Campaign held a demonstration last week in Charleston urging Manchin to reconsider his opposition and stances on other legislative issues. Hundreds of people walked a mile from Magic Island Park to Manchin’s office as part of the protest.

“This is what you are saying, Sen. Manchin, when you are against the For the People Act,” Rev. William Barber told demonstrators. “You are saying that you are against curbing voter suppression. You are saying that you are against making it easier for all Americans to register and vote and cast a ballot. You are saying you are against outlawing political gerrymandering. And you are saying that you are against overhauling our campaign finance laws so that the voices of ordinary people can be amplified, and the voices of corrupt corporations and the ruling elite class can be lessened.”

Capito has described the For the People Act as federal overreach that takes power away from state elections officials.

“We need to give our states and our secretary of states and our clerks the flexibility to tailor the voting in the best way to get the best turnout,” she told reporters last week.

Manchin sent a memo to colleagues last week about possible changes to the proposal, including requiring voter ID with some alternatives like a utility bill.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said President Joe Biden appreciates the senator’s efforts on passing a voting measure. The president also hosted Manchin at the White House on Monday, in which the two discussed voting rights and infrastructure.

Manchin has voiced support for reauthorizing the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and updating the formula allowing the federal government to review local and state elections laws. The Supreme Court struck down the federal government’s oversight in 2013, ruling the method was outdated.