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Manchin votes yes to start debate on fed election bill, Capito no

Voices for and against bill put pressure on

File Photo MANCHIN — U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin voted to start debate on the For the People Act Tuesday after securing a compromise on the bill's contents.

CHARLESTON — U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin announced Tuesday he would vote to begin debate on a sweeping election reform bill while U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito joined Republicans in opposition, as West Virginians urged support or objections to the bill.

In a statement Tuesday afternoon, Manchin, D-W.Va., said an agreement was reached with his Democratic colleagues on a compromise version of S.1, the For the People Act, that incorporates some of the recommendations he released last week.

“Over the past month, I have worked to eliminate the far reaching provisions of S.1, the For the People Act – which I do not support,” Manchin said. “I’ve found common ground with my Democratic colleagues on a new version of the bill that ensures our elections are fair, accessible and secure. Today I will vote ‘YES’ to move to debate this updated voting legislation as a substitute amendment to ensure every eligible voter is able to cast their ballot and participate in our great democracy.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., brought the bill to the floor Tuesday evening, though Republicans used the filibuster to block Schumer’s cloture motion – needed to even begin debating the bill and making amendments. Manchin’s compromise amendment would have been considered had the cloture motion been passed. Capito, R-W.Va., has said for weeks she didn’t see a scenario where Senate Republicans would support the For the People Act.

“The so-called ‘For the People Act’ is a despicable, disingenuous attempt to strip states of their constitutional right to administer elections, and should never come close to reaching the president’s desk,” Capito said in a statement Tuesday night after the vote. “Simply put: this was never about getting more people to vote, but rather a way for Democrats in Congress to power grab and fix problems that do not exist.”

According to Manchin, the compromise amendment to S.1 included provisions to increase voter access for those unable to vote in-person, such as West Virginia’s mobile military, overseas voter, and disabled voter program. The amendment also included flexible voter I.D. requirements similar to West Virginia’s program that allows multiple forms of photo and non-photo I.D. Manchin also called for campaign finance requirements for disclosure of donors who contribute $10,000 to bring transparency to dark money donations.

The For the People Act makes wide-ranging changes to voting rights laws, election regulations and campaign finance. Supporters see the bill as an opportunity to preserve democracy in the wake of changes to voting laws in Republican states in response to unfounded allegations of election fraud during the 2020 presidential election.  

Other supporters of S.1 want to see reform of campaign finance laws that level the playing field for small business that have a hard timing getting the attention of their lawmakers compared to larger corporations who can funnel larger donations to candidates and political action committees.  

Represent US, a Massachusetts-based non-profit advocating across the nation for the For the People Act, launched West Virginia Small Business for Democracy at an event Tuesday in Shepherdstown. West Virginia Small Business for Democracy represents more than 100 businesses urging Manchin to support the For the People Act. During a virtual press conference Tuesday morning, several small business owners spoke about why they support the bill.

“It’s really important for small businesses like mine,” said Jan Hafer, co-owner of Evolve Shepherdstown. “Small business … in the United States is larger than any other group of businesses, like corporations. We’re the biggest and we don’t seem to get the support we need. We have a small voice. I think (S.1) will help us get an equal voice at the table.”

“Our individual voices are drowned out by the cacophony of lobbyists who don’t simply influence the policies that come out of Washington and our statehouses – they actually craft, draft, and write the policies that get passed,” said Jeanne Peters, owner of Jewelry Buyers of Vienna. “The For the People Act represents our best chance of getting dark money out of our government before our voices as small business owners are completely silenced.”

Not all voices support the For the People Act. According to a poll conducted by ARW Strategies and paid for by the West Virginia Record – funded by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for Legal Reform – 63 percent of respondents said they agreed with Manchin’s stance against S.1 as based on his June 6 op-ed in the Charleston Gazette-Mail. Only 32 percent opposed Manchin’s stance.

The poll, conducted between June 18 and June 20 with 500 likely voters with a 4.48 percent margin of error, also saw 61 percent of respondents agree with Manchin’s stance to not weaken or eliminate the filibuster – a parliamentary procedure that allows a minority party to block legislation. The filibuster can be lifted with 60 votes, though the Senate is split 50-50 between Republicans and Democrats, making it difficult to lift a filibuster without GOP support.

Senate Republicans see the bill as federal overreach due to provisions requiring states to implement automatic voter registration, same-day voter registration on election days, ballot harvesting, limiting voter roll cleanup of outdated voter registration files; and expanding the use of mail-in absentee voting.

“Unfortunately, my Republican colleagues refused to allow debate of this legislation despite the reasonable changes made to focus the bill on the core issues facing our democracy,” Manchin said. “As I have said before, the right to vote is fundamental to our American democracy and protecting that right should not be about party or politics.”

“The process surrounding this bill, including the false pretense of bipartisanship, tells you all you need to know about the motivations of the special interests who are pushing for this unnecessary legislation,” Capito said.

(Adams can be contacted at sadams@newsandsentinel.com)

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