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Senator Joe Manchin Seeks Compromise on Voting Rights Legislation

FILE - In this Feb. 25, 2021, file photo, reporters question Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., as he arrives for votes on President Joe Biden's cabinet nominees, at the Capitol in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

CHARLESTON — U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said Wednesday he is working with fellow Democratic senators to make changes to a key voting rights bill that has some lawmakers conflicted.

Speaking Wednesday after the unveiling of signage for the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve, Manchin said he is working with Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., and Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., the point men on H.R. 1 and S. 1, also called the For the People Act.

The For the People Act passed the House of Representatives along party lines in March, but the Senate Rules and Administration Committee is expected to vote next Tuesday to allow the bill to advance to the full Senate for a vote.

According to The Washington Post, Democratic lawmakers have worked behind the scenes to craft the bill to make it more acceptable to Manchin and a handful of other Senate Democrats who have raised issues with the act. The bill also is expected not to make it past a Senate Republican filibuster attempt.

In a statement in March, Manchin said any attempt at federal election reform must be done with the cooperation of both Republicans and Democrats. Speaking Wednesday, Manchin said he still believed the two parties and the two chambers could find common ground on election reform.

“Hopefully we can come together,” Manchin said. “Our staff is working with Jim Clyburn’s staff. We’re working with Raphael Warnock, everybody that has a concern. There is not a person who should not have access (to voting) and it should not be made difficult. That’s not who we are as a country. It’s not who we are as democracy, and democracy will not survive unless you have an open and fair (election).”

The For the People Act makes wide-ranging changes to voting rights laws, election regulations and campaign finance. The act would require disclosure of any campaign donation from special interest groups, expedite reporting of major donations to federal candidates, replace the bipartisan Federal Elections Commission with a new watchdog agency consisting of presidential appointees and regulate super PACs, political action committees that support or campaign against candidates and are often accused of illegally coordinating with the candidates they support.

The act also would require states to implement automatic voter registration at designated government agencies, such as the Division of Motor Vehicles, unless a voter chooses to opt out, same-day voter registration on election days, limit voter roll cleanup of outdated voter registration files, expand the use of mail-in absentee voting and create nationwide early voting.

A former two-term governor of West Virginia and a former secretary of state, the chief elections officer in West Virginia, Manchin said he sees the need for some changes. However, he also believes the authority for managing elections needs to remain at the state and local level.

Manchin said any election reform effort needs to focus on three key areas.

“The main thing is, being a former governor and a former secretary of state, we should have accessibility at the polling place, you should have fairness in the voting process, and it should be secured,” Manchin said. “Those three things have to be done.”

One part of For the People Manchin likes is the restoration of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The Voting Rights Act was gutted in 2013 in a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Manchin and others have tried to restore the Voting Rights Act through the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, named for the late civil rights leader and Georgia congressman John Lewis. The most recent version of the bill passed the House in 2019, but the Senate version of the bill died in committee in 2020.

The John Lewis Voting Rights Act would restore the original Voting Rights Act to ensure any changes to state election laws do not violate the civil rights of minorities and people of color. Many states have started making changes to voting laws in the wake of the November 2020 elections, believing without evidence that the election was stolen from former president Donald Trump. Election rights advocated believe those changes could make it more difficult for people to register and vote.

“We already have the John L. Lewis (Voting Rights Act),” Manchin said. “We should basically expand the John L. Lewis Voting Act to all 50 States, not just to those that we designate, and protect the voters. Those are the main things that we should be doing.”

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