CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia advocates are asking the state’s U.S. senators to pass voting legislation as concerns about new restrictions continue in the new year.
The West Virginia Freedom to Vote Coalition held a virtual event Thursday focused on passing election-related measures, including legislation backed by U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. The forum coincided with the anniversary of the attack on the U.S. Capitol, in which a mob of Donald Trump supporters aimed to stop the certification of the 2020 presidential election results.
“Protecting the right to vote in America is actually the bedrock of our society. Without it, we don’t exist as we know this country and love this country,” Charleston City Council President Beckey Ceperley said.
President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and multiple Senate Democrats spoke Thursday in favor of expanding voting rights, linking the need with the attack. Trump has maintained false claims that widespread election fraud impacted the final results, and Republican state legislatures across the country have pushed measures restricting voting. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, 19 states passed bills restricting access.
“Unfortunately, there are folks who would systematically block access to the polls for minorities and for people they feel don’t agree with them or don’t believe the way they do,” said Ceperley, the former national president of the League of Women Voters.
Senate Republicans blocked the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act during last year’s congressional session. The measures would expand voter registration and voting access, as well as restore the ability of the Justice Department and the District Court for the District of Columbia to review state changes to voting practices. Manchin is a sponsor of the Freedom to Vote Act and pushed Democrats to include language on voter identification.
“These pieces of legislation have what is absolutely necessary for us to continue our freedom and continue our democracy as we know it. What we are seeking is a set of national standards,” Ceperley noted. “National standards that would guarantee access to the election process for all of the eligible voters of America.”
The coalition also supports the Protecting Our Democracy Act, which would require campaigns for federal office to report contacts with foreign people and entities as well as establish a program for local and state governments to utilize ranked-choice voting. The House of Representatives passed the measure in early December; West Virginia’s representatives voted against the bill.
Former Secretary of State Natalie Tennant said the bills are necessary as many Republicans continue pushing restrictive bills. She criticized multiple West Virginia officials — including former election opponent current Secretary of State Mac Warner — for challenging the 2020 election and backing restrictive voting measures.
“There are some secretaries of state around the country that I’ve talked to that say 2020 was only practice. Watch out for 2022 and 2024,” she said.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., told colleagues this week the Senate will vote by Jan. 17 to change rules to allow the chamber to pass voting legislation. Democrats have supported advancing bills, yet members have been unable to meet the 60-vote threshold in the split Senate to move legislation forward.
Manchin on Thursday said he is participating in discussions regarding the filibuster, but he is not willing to support changes. He also confirmed an Axios report about joining a bipartisan group considering an election measure.
“For myself and a lot of my Republican friends, we want this place to work. We really want to work, and it has not worked,” he added on “MetroNews Talkline.”
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., has opposed voting legislation, saying state governments should have the authority to conduct elections without overbearing federal interference. She announced Wednesday changes to the filibuster would give the Senate’s majority power “absolute power.”
“If Democrats were successful with doing away with the filibuster, legislative accomplishments could be undone and redone over and over with just one flip of a Senate seat. That’s a dangerous precedent to set and a reckless way to govern. This move would have disastrous consequences and would fundamentally change our democratic process for years to come,” she said.
Capito noted she signed a letter with 61 other senators — including Manchin — in April 2017 asking Senate leaders to preserve the filibuster.