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The parts of Manchin’s voting act you haven’t heard about

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) pauses during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing at the Dirksen Senate Office building in Washington on Tuesday, September 28, 2021
New York Times/Pool

In September, a group of key Senate Democrats led by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), introduced a serious commonsense piece of legislation aimed at making our electoral system work better in targeted ways that deserve bipartisan support.  

The Freedom to Vote Act is a substantially pared down version of the initial For the People Act, including straightforward provisions in four critical areas: Voting rights, election security, redistricting and campaign finance. If passed, it would deliver a government that is more representative and accountable to the people.

So far, precious little attention has been paid to what exactly is in the bill, and how it would impact state laws that make voting harder for millions of Americans. It is time for people to focus on what is at stake, and on how the Freedom to Vote Act can address the most important election-related problems while leaving out some of the less essential baggage. 

Manchin’s proposal retains the earlier proposal’s most important provisions that will help ensure politicians are accountable to their bosses — the American people. Indeed, Manchin’s proposal is a significant improvement over earlier versions. This legislation is tougher on partisan gerrymandering than other provisions that have been advanced on the Hill this year. It would open up new judicial avenues to challenge maps that unfairly advantage one party. 

Republicans in the Senate should support the Manchin compromise to prevent Democrats from drawing biased maps in states where they have majorities, like in Oregon and Maryland. We need national standards in place to rein in this practice nationwide.

Congress should pass this important bill because its provisions have broad support from the American people. A recent national poll shows that a whopping 70 percent of likely voters support this bill. Indeed, these voters understand the context in which this bill was introduced. 

According to the Campaign Legal Center state scorecard report, seven states that completed their legislative sessions this summer restricted vote-by-mail and early voting laws. These policies are wrong in and of themselves, but they also ignore the core lesson of the record turnout of 2020: Republicans and Democrats alike desire reasonable vote-by-mail and early voting options.

Additionally, the Freedom to Vote Act contains major campaign finance reforms to improve transparency in our elections.

One notable measure that has received little attention is a Federal Election Commission (FEC) provision that would end the longstanding 3-3 partisan deadlock among commissioners by requiring the votes of “a majority of the members of the commission who are serving at the time” to overrule a determination by the FEC’s Office of General Counsel that an investigation is warranted or that the law was violated. This would help ensure the FEC enforces our campaign finance laws and holds violators accountable.

The American people must keep the pressure on their elected officials to get this passed. As Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has declared, “Failure is not an option.” 

The American people’s ask is simple: Pass election reform that reflects the will of a majority of the people. For months, the American people have been calling for national standards to protect our freedom to vote, ensure fair representation, and get big money out of politics. Congress must listen to the people and pass the Freedom to Vote Act. 

Trevor Potter (@TheTrevorPotter) is the president of the Campaign Legal Center who has served as chairman of the Federal Election Commission. Donald Ayer served as deputy attorney general under George H.W. Bush and as a U.S. attorney and principal deputy solicitor general in the Reagan administration.

Tags Chuck Schumer Chuck Schumer For the People Act Freedom to Vote Act Gerrymandering Joe Manchin Joe Manchin Republican efforts to restrict voting following the 2020 presidential election Voter suppression Voting in the United States

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