McConnell throws a bucket of cold water on the revised voting rights bill that Senate Democrats (including Manchin) released today, says there’s no reason for the federal government to be “taking over how we conduct elections in this country.” “We will not be supporting it.”
A group of Democratic senators — including key centrist Joe Manchin III of West Virginia — introduced a pared-down voting rights, campaign finance and government ethics bill Tuesday in hopes of building momentum for its passage through a closely divided Senate.
The new Freedom to Vote Act retains significant portions of the For the People Act, Democrats’ marquee voting legislation that passed the House this year but was blocked by a Republican filibuster in June. Those include mandating national minimum standards for early voting and vote-by-mail, establishing Election Day as a national holiday, and creating new disclosure requirements for “dark money” groups that are not now required to disclose their donors.
But it also discards significant pieces and tweaks others, largely in an effort to placate Manchin and indulge his hopes of building enough Republican support to pass the bill. Overcoming a filibuster absent a rules change would require the support of 10 Republicans in addition to the 50 members of the Democratic caucus.
Those odds appeared remote Tuesday: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) vowed anew to keep his party united in opposition to any federal voting legislation, and even some of the most moderate Republican senators whom Manchin has briefed on the new bill said they believed it went too far.
“I represent a state with one of the highest turnouts in the country consistently, and yet we don’t have early voting,” said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine). “So I don’t see why the federal government should impose rules on a state and preempt state laws for a state that’s doing a great job.”
The changes to the bill, however, will allow Democrats to keep hope for action on voting rights alive for at least a few more weeks at a precarious moment for Senate Democrats, with the party eager to make progress on President Biden’s sweeping economic agenda while facing deadlines to fund the federal government and address the approaching debt ceiling in the coming weeks.
Some of the changes gut significant portions of the For the People Act: A public financing system for congressional campaigns that would match small donations with federal funds on a 6-to-1 basis has been scaled back to an optional program for House campaigns only, requiring states to choose whether to participate. State and local election officials would have a freer hand to purge voter rolls than under the initial bill, and a provision to change the makeup of the Federal Election Commission, moving from an even split between the parties to an odd number of members in a bid to break partisan gridlock, has been omitted from the revised bill.
While the original bill mandated that states use nonpartisan commissions to draw congressional district lines to prevent gerrymandering, the revised bill does not require commissions. It instead creates federal criteria for mapmaking, gives courts the power to enforce them, and allows states to choose how to comply, whether by using a commission or another method.
The new legislation also adds some new elements, including provisions meant to thwart state-level efforts in GOP-controlled states that some are warning could allow officials to override election results. Sections aimed at so-called election subversion would create federal protections for elections officials and create standards for the handing of election equipment and records that could forestall partisan audits such as the review of the 2020 presidential election results ordered by the Arizona Senate.
The Freedom to Vote Act does not include one controversial proposal that Manchin floated in June — a national voter identification mandate. Instead, the bill would create a national standard for the states that choose to require voter ID, allowing them to accept a range of documents as proof of identification, without requiring it in other states.
The revised bill emerges as Democrats face mounting pressure from advocates and from their own voters to address the series of state election laws passed in GOP-controlled states this year — a national effort to cut back on early voting, vote by mail, drop boxes and other ballot access measures in response to former president Donald Trump’s false claims of a stolen 2020 election.
Meanwhile, states are already beginning the redistricting process without new federal standards in place to prevent partisan gerrymandering. Nonpartisan forecasters predict that would allow Republicans to net several House seats in the 2022 midterms, further imperiling the Democratic House majority.
The bill was hashed out over the summer by a group of senators that included Manchin and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), chairman of the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, as well as Sens. Tim Kaine (D- Va.), Angus King (I-Maine), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Raphael G. Warnock (D-Ga.).