CHARLESTON, W.Va. — U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin is supporting a revised elections bill with Democratic colleagues after the chamber failed to advance a broader bill earlier this year.
Senate Democrats on Tuesday introduced the Freedom to Vote Act as another response to Republican-led state legislatures approving voting laws following the 2020 presidential election; voting rights groups say the laws make it more difficult for people to vote, especially minorities.
According to Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, the legislation follows discussions among Democrats and feedback from local and state election officials. Manchin is cosponsoring the bill with Democrats Tim Kaine of Virginia, Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Alex Padilla of California, Raphael Warnock of Georgia, and independent Senator Angus King of Maine.
“The right to vote is fundamental to our Democracy and the Freedom to Vote Act is a step in the right direction towards protecting that right for every American,” Manchin said.
The bill would enact an automatic voter registration system through each state’s motor vehicle agency, make Election Day a public holiday, mandate at least 15 consecutive days of early voting in federal elections, and place new requirements on states for congressional redistricting. Nonpartisan local and state election officials would have protection from possible partisan interference during federal elections.
Voters would have to provide a form of identification for in-person voting, although the national standard would allow a broad set of cards and documents.
“As elected officials, we also have an obligation to restore peoples’ faith in our Democracy, and I believe that the commonsense provisions in this bill — like flexible voter ID requirements — will do just that,” Manchin said.
The Freedom to Vote Act includes many provisions of the For the People Act, which Republicans blocked in June. Manchin voiced opposition to the For the People Act but voted to open debate after Democrats agreed to include a voter ID provision and eliminate language on public financing for federal elections.
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., told MetroNews she opposes the new measure.
“I want every eligible West Virginian to be able to exercise their right to vote, find the process easy and accessible, and ensure their vote is counted, however, the ‘Freedom to Vote Act’ remains a partisan power grab that includes unrelated, harmful provisions on the liberal wish list previously included in the ‘For the People’ Act,” she said in a statement.
“I continue to oppose this flawed bill because it still fundamentally federalizes our elections. Despite the changes proposed, this bill would still strip states of their authority to run their elections as needed by their unique constituencies. Bottom line, West Virginia doesn’t need Washington, D.C. to impose burdensome requirements to fix problems that do not exist.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., also announced opposition to the measure, describing it as “a solution in search of a problem.”
Former President Barack Obama tweeted the Freedom to Vote Act would “would strengthen our democracy by making it easier for people to vote and harder for politicians and special interests to drown out the voices of ordinary Americans.” The Brennan Center for Justice, a public policy institute focused on various issues, also supports the proposal.
“I cannot express how critical this piece of legislation is. Legislatures in nearly half of the states have passed laws that make it harder for eligible voters to cast a ballot. The politicians claim it’s all about ‘election integrity.’ In fact, it’s about preserving power as America diversifies and advancing Trump’s Big Lie of a stolen election,” said Michael Waldman, the organization’s president.
“Will Congress have the political will to act? Will the White House put its muscle behind Biden’s statement that this is the greatest threat to American democracy since the Civil War? The coming weeks will tell. But for right now, this is a breakthrough and a momentum boost — and we are closer than we have ever been to the most significant democracy reform bill in a half century.”
Manchin has backed reauthorizing the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and updating the formula providing the federal government with authority to review local and state election laws. The U.S. Supreme Court in 2013 ruled the formula was outdated and unconstitutional.