CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Republicans in the U.S. Senate successfully blocked a motion to advance a sweeping elections bill on Tuesday, preventing Democrats from passing one of their top legislative priorities.
The Senate voted 50-50 to open debate on the For the People Act, in which 60 senators had to support moving forward with the bill. Democrats have pushed the measure, which would have increased voter options and ensured voting access as well as addressed issues such as gerrymandering and campaign financing.
The push stemmed from Republican-led state legislatures passing bills that voting rights groups contend would make it difficult for minority people to vote. Former President Donald Trump also maintains widespread voter fraud impacted the 2020 election results, although there is no evidence supporting such claim. Judges have dismissed related challenges from Trump and his allies.
Republican senators criticized the proposal as giving the federal government too much control in elections and infringing on the states’ authority.
U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. — who previously voiced opposition to the For the People Act — voted to open debate as Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., joined Republican colleagues in opposition.
“The so-called ‘For the People Act’ is a despicable, disingenuous attempt to strip states of their constitutional right to administer elections, and should never come close to reaching the president’s desk,” Capito said.
Capito has voiced issues with the proposal, noting the possible effect on voting by deployed military members and the provision allowing the public financing of campaigns.
The state’s junior senator was not alone in her opposition among West Virginia’s public officials; a majority of county clerks wrote letters urging the senators to oppose the bill. Secretary of State Mac Warner testified before the Senate Rules Committee in March against the measure.
“I want every eligible West Virginian to exercise their right to vote, find the process easy and accessible, and ensure their vote is counted,” Capito said Tuesday.
“Fortunately in 2020, in the midst of a pandemic, West Virginia ran a successful election that saw increased, historic voter turnout. I am proud to stand with 54 of West Virginia’s 55 county clerks — Democrat and Republican — in defending our state’s authority to run our own elections, and I am happy to see this harmful, partisan bill fail today in the Senate.”
Manchin was the only Democrat not sponsoring the For the People Act. He wrote an opinion piece in the Charleston Gazette-Mail earlier this month explaining his opposition to the bill; he described the proposal as one attempt by political parties to secure a political advantage at the ballot box.
“As such, 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,” he wrote in the Jan. 6 piece.
The senator voted to move forward with the legislation after reaching a compromise with Democratic colleagues; lawmakers agreed to include a provision on voter ID and eliminate the public financing portion of the measure.
“These reasonable changes have moved the bill forward and to a place worthy of debate on the Senate floor. This process would allow both Republicans and Democrats to offer amendments to further change the bill,” Manchin said before the vote.
“Unfortunately, my Republican colleagues refused to allow debate of this legislation despite the reasonable changes made to focus the bill on the core issues facing our democracy. As I have said before, the right to vote is fundamental to our American democracy and protecting that right should not be about party or politics. I remain committed to finding a bipartisan pathway forward because the future of our democracy is worth it.”
Manchin has also been a staunch supporter of the filibuster, the Senate rule that requires most bills to get 60 votes to advance. The Senate is split evenly between the Democratic and Republican caucuses, and Vice President Kamala Harris serves as the tiebreaking vote when necessary.
“Sen. Manchin, along with the rest of our caucus, has made clear to the country that standing up for the right to vote is bigger than any one person or thing,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said on the Senate floor. “It’s about us as Americans.”
Klobuchar, the chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, also announced there will be field hearings across the country related to state elections measures.
“We can’t let state legislators get to pick and choose who votes and what votes get counted. That’s not how democracy works,” she said.
Capito also serves on the Senate Rules Committee.
The House of Representatives passed its version of the For the People Act in March. West Virginia Reps. David McKinley, Alex Mooney and Carol Miller were among the 210 Republicans who opposed the measure.