Manchin, Murkowski urge US Congress to reauthorize Voting Rights Act

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., joined Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, on Monday in asking Congress to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act following state election changes and amid debate on federal voting legislation.

Manchin and Murkowski — both moderates within their respective parties — sent a letter to legislative leaders asking lawmakers to “reaffirm our longstanding bipartisan commitment to free, accessible, and secure elections for all” by reauthorizing the law for the first time since 2006.

“Protecting Americans’ access to democracy has not been a partisan issue for the past 56 years, and we must not allow it to become one now,” the senators said.

President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 in response to state efforts restricting minority voters, primarily in the American South. The measure required certain areas to receive federal approval before enacting any election-related changes. U.S. Supreme Court justices in 2013 ruled the formula determining which local and state governments need federal approval was outdated and unconstitutional.

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska (Office of U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski)

“This decision effectively gutted one of the federal government’s most effective tools to preserve confidence in our nation’s elections, and we are seeing the results manifest themselves in state legislatures across the country,” the senators said.

Republican lawmakers in multiple states have pushed bills that would make it more difficult for some Americans to vote; the Brennan Center for Justice notes legislators in 47 states have introduced more than 360 bills this year with actions impacting voting, such as limits on absentee voting and identification requirements.

The West Virginia Legislature discussed legislation requiring voters to present identification and a bill affecting early voting and voter roll purges, but state lawmakers did not pass any measure during the 60-day regular session.

Congressional Democrats support the For the People Act, an extensive proposal that includes same-day voter registration and requirements that states automatically register voters, offer 15 days of early voting, and provide no-excuse absentee voting. The proposal would also restructure the Federal Elections Commission and place stricter rules on super PACs.

The House passed the related bill in March. Manchin is the only Democratic senator not sponsoring the Senate’s version.

“As a former Secretary of State, I know, firsthand, the importance of local decision-making around voter accessibility and election security,” Manchin said in March. “With that in mind, there are bipartisan proposals embedded in this bill that can strike the right balance and make great strides on each of these issues. Instead of arguing about the election reforms on which we disagree, Congress should be working together to enact those on which we can agree.”

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., has criticized the For the People Act as federal overreach. West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner — who participated in a rally last December challenging the presidential election resultshas raised concerns about how the proposal would affect voter confidence and voting by overseas military members.

Manchin and Murkowski backed a bill revising the Voting Rights Act formula during the previous Congress, in which Murkowski was the sole Republican cosponsor. The House passed an identical proposal in December 2019, in which Reps. David McKinley, Alex Mooney and Carol Miller joined their Republican colleagues in opposing the measure.

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