Dave Mistich Published

West Virginia Statehouse Dems Rally For Voting Rights In D.C., Meet With Sen. Manchin

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Updated Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2021 at 3:30 p.m.

A group of Democrats from West Virginia’s statehouse were in the nation’s capital Tuesday to support federal legislation that would reinforce voting rights and overhaul various aspects of elections.

The rally in support of the For The People Act — also known as S.1. — comes as Republican-led states across the U.S. have passed measures that critics say will disproportionately disenfranchise low-income voters and people of color.

A small contingent of West Virginia lawmakers — including Dels. Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, Cody Thompson, D-Randolph, and Kayla Young, D-Kanawha — joined 150 legislators from 30 states Tuesday to rally in support of the For The People Act.

The issue most recently came into national focus as Democrats from the Texas House of Representatives fled their home state to break quorum, effectively stopping the passage of another bill that would roll back voting rights there.

Earlier versions of the For The People Act have stalled in Congress for months, with the Democratic majority struggling to gain needed support from Senate Democrats.

According to a description of the For the People Act — written by the original House version’s original sponsor, the legislation aims to “expand Americans’ access to the ballot box, reduce the influence of big money in politics, strengthen ethics rules for public servants and implement other anti-corruption measures for the purpose of fortifying our democracy, and for other purposes.”

That version, which made its way to the Senate following passage in the House on a 220-210 vote, would have eliminated voter ID laws and created a public campaign financing system for congressional elections, among many other provisions.

During Tuesday’s rally, Pushkin noted that U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin has proposed a compromise version of the bill.

“Sen. Manchin was not just our former governor, he served as our Secretary of State as well, “ Pushkin said while speaking to the crowd gathered near the U.S. Capitol. “So as the former chief election officer for the state of West Virginia, he understands the historic nature of this issue that brings us here today: the importance of free and fair elections.”

Manchin’s compromise reportedly includes provisions that would make Election Day a federal holiday, provide automatic voter registration through the DMV, call for voter ID to be instituted with a wide range of documents used, mandate 15 consecutive days for early voting in federal elections and ban partisan gerrymandering.

Like with many issues, Manchin has remained committed to working across the aisle with Republicans on the For The People Act.

“The bedrock of our democracy is open, fair and secure elections. Americans must be able to trust in our election process and believe in a peaceful transfer of power,” Manchin said in a statement provided to West Virginia Public Broadcasting. “To protect our election process and in order to keep from dividing our country further, we must find a bipartisan compromise on voting legislation. I continue to work with my colleagues, both Democrats and Republicans, to find a reasonable solution to the voting issues our nation is facing today.”

Citing the bill’s continued drafting in the Senate Rules Committee, Manchin’s office was unable to provide the text of the West Virginia lawmaker’s counteroffer. That committee is chaired by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., who also took part in Tuesday’s rally in D.C.

Following the rally, Pushkin, Thompson and Young were able to have an impromptu meeting with Manchin on the steps of the capitol building.

While attention to issues related to voting rights have been spurred on by state-level changes made in Republican-led legislators, the chances of federal overhauls remain in question.

The measure would need 60 votes to clear the upper chamber — and Manchin has repeatedly stated he opposes bypassing the filibuster to pass this or any other piece of legislation.

Pushkin said Manchin told their group that he’s continuing to try to get bipartisan support for his version of the bill — and Manchin’s office declined to say which Republicans might already be on board with his proposal or whom he is targeting for support to get to 60 votes.

“I think it’s important in any compromise that both sides get some things they want but maybe not everything. It’s always important to seek common ground. However, there is nothing more important in democracy than protecting the right to vote,” Pushkin said by phone Tuesday. “I think Manchin’s efforts in trying to be bipartisan are commendable, but I think it’s more important that we get a bill passed.”

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., took to the Senate floor in June to call the version of the measure passed by the U.S. House a “partisan power grab.”

On Tuesday, Capito’s office said she believes there are “enormous problems” with Manchin’s proposed compromise to the For The People Act.

“I want every eligible West Virginian to exercise their right to vote, find the process easy and accessible, and ensure their vote is counted, however, the so-called ‘For The People Act’ is merely a partisan power grab that includes all kinds of unrelated, harmful provisions on the liberal wish list,” Capito said.

Capito also said the bill would remove the authority of states to run elections as they see fit to best serve their unique constituencies.

“Bottom line, states don’t need Washington, D.C. to strip them of their authority and impose burdensome requirements to fix problems that do not exist,” she said. “Unfortunately, that’s exactly what this legislation would do, and it’s why the ‘For The People Act’ doesn’t live up to its name.”

Discussion over the issue continues to permeate across Washington as the Senate continues its work on another piece of legislation to overhaul the nation’s infrastructure.

While advocates push for traction on the For The People Act, it’s unknown if any progress will be made on the bill before the Senate heads out on a delayed recess.