Joe Manchin vs. the right to vote

Joe Manchin, millionaire Democratic Party senator from West Virginia, announced his opposition to the For the People Act in an op-ed published in the Charleston Gazette-Mail. The For the People Act, also referred to as “HR 1” or “S 1,” is a proposed piece of legislation seeking to dramatically expand voting  rights nationwide and act as a brake to the wave of racist voter suppression measures being taken on the state level. The bill is supported by the Biden administration, but Manchin’s opposition is a major blow to its chances of success in the Senate, where all 50 Democratic votes would be needed to eliminate the filibuster and pass the act with a simple majority.

The For the People Act overhauls existing election procedures and if passed would make Election Day a federal holiday, expand early and mail voting, and require states to permit same-day registration. It would also curb gerrymandering — a practice which frequently involves drawing Congressional District maps in a way that minimizes the influence of Black and Latino voters — by requiring that these maps be produced by independent commissions. 

The bill would also guarantee that people who have been convicted of felonies and have served their sentences will be eligible to vote. Additionally, a provision in the act would restrict state purges of voter rolls, something that often prevents working class people from exercising their right to vote. 

HR 1 also includes provisions dealing with campaign finance. Proponents of the bill argue that it will reduce the influence of major donors by restricting contributions to Super PACs and instead favors contributions to more traditional and less secretive organizations like political party committees. However, these provisions may also have the effect of making it more difficult for third parties to qualify for different types of federal funds. It is important that this action is taken to ensure that the For the People Act does not have the side effect of strengthening the undemocratic two-party duopoly that dominates U.S. politics.

The For the People Act would prohibit corporations from making donations to Presidential Inaugural Committees and impose caps on individual donations. A president’s PIC traditionally functions as a slush fund for the ultra rich to buy influence with an incoming administration.

The act includes findings in support of statehood for Washington, D.C., citing that D.C. residents have maintained all the requirements of citizenship but without any congressional voting rights and limited ability to control local policy. Moreover, D.C. residents pay more taxes per capita than any other state. D.C. historically is a majority-Black city, and the decades-long effort to deny D.C. residents full democratic representation has a clearly racist character.

The For the People Act was initially introduced in Congress in 2019 and passed in the House but stalled in the Senate. The legislation was reintroduced in the House earlier this year and passed in March. Republicans no longer control the Senate, but are depending on the filibuster to block its passage. The filibuster is a procedural rule in the Senate that imposes an undemocratic 60-vote requirement to pass most types of laws, as opposed to a simple 51-vote majority. It is becoming increasingly absurd that Senate Democrats do not move to abolish the filibuster, something President Biden has so far failed to throw his support behind.

Despite all the major gains to be won with the passage of this act, Manchin’s ridiculously argues that he must oppose this bill because it does not have “bipartisan” support from Republicans – as if kowtowing to right-wing millionaires in the Senate is more important than tackling the disenfranchisement of oppressed and working class voters. Manchin also opposes ending the filibuster, claiming ludicrously that the majority party using their democratic mandate to pass legislation would be an example of “absolute power corrupts absolutely”. 

Furthermore, in his op-ed Manchin writes platitudes about the need to reduce political divisions, but it is obvious that he only means divisions among his millionaire friends in the Senate. Manchin’s opposition to this bill is nothing short of treacherous given all his talk of wanting to “strengthen our democracy.”

But as is the case with all politicians, Machin’s current position can be changed if enough pressure is applied. After years of struggle by people’s movements, the sweeping reforms in the For the People Act now have a real shot at passage. These same movements can pressure Manchin to reverse his position, in addition to pressuring Biden to support the elimination of the filibuster and dramatically escalate the pressure on right wing Democrats like Manchin to do the same.

Photo: Sen. Joe Manchin speaking at an event in 2017. Credit — Third Way Think Tank

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