Mr. Manchin, a Democrat in deep-red West Virginia, said partisan efforts by either side to change how elections work will harden bitter divides, so he cannot support the House-passed “For the People Act” that would expand the federal footprint at the polls.
“Today’s debate about how to best protect our right to vote and to hold elections, however, is not about finding common ground, but seeking partisan advantage. Whether it is state laws that seek to needlessly restrict voting or politicians who ignore the need to secure our elections, partisan policymaking won’t instill confidence in our democracy — it will destroy it,” Mr. Manchin wrote in The Charleston Gazette-Mail. “As such, congressional action on federal voting rights legislation must be the result of both Democrats and Republicans coming together to find a pathway forward or we risk further dividing and destroying the republic we swore to protect and defend as elected officials.”
Mr. Manchin’s position is sure to enrage fellow Democrats and progressives who say a federal overhaul is needed to protect voting rights as Republican-led states look to tighten their election laws.
The states say they’re restoring faith in elections after an unusual round of voting in the pandemic, though liberals say red-state governors are trying to limit minority participation and tilt outcomes after embarrassing defeats in 2020. Some liberals say democracy is at stake.
The Senate is divided 50-50 between the parties, so Mr. Manchin’s opposition would impede the bill even if Democrats waived the filibuster rule that requires 60 votes for major legislation to advance.
“Yes, this process can be frustrating and slow. It will force compromises that are not always ideal,” Mr. Manchin wrote. “But consider the alternative. Do we really want to live in an America where one party can dictate and demand everything and anything it wants, whenever it wants?”
The Democrats’ bill, among other things, would dictate how many drop-boxes a state must have and where they can be placed. The more than 800-page bill would mandate that states establish automatic voter registration of people with driver’s licenses and students attending universities.
“This fight is not over, and I will continue to work with my colleagues to get critical voting, ethics, and campaign finance reforms passed in the Senate,” she said.
Republicans say it would invite chaos into state elections by allowing automatic registration, providing 10 days past Election Day to count mail-in ballots and taking authority from state legislatures to draw district maps.
“It’s the wrong piece of legislation to bring our country together and unite our country, and I’m not supporting that because I think it would divide us more. I don’t want to be in a country that’s divided any further,” Mr. Manchin told “Fox News Sunday.” “I think there’s a lot of great things in that piece of legislation, but there’s an awful lot of things that basically don’t pertain directly to voting.”
Mr. Manchin’s position is a setback for President Biden, who recently pledged to make voting rights a key priority in the coming weeks and tasked Vice President Kamala Harris with shepherding reforms through Congress.
Mindful of his position between the parties, Mr. Manchin praised the president.
“I believe Joe Biden is the right person in the right place at the right time for our country,” Mr. Manchin told “Fox News Sunday” while lobbing criticism at Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. “I think he is 100% wrong in trying to block all good things that we are trying to do for America.”
Liberal voices, however, said Mr. Manchin appeared to be flouting the former and kowtowing to the latter.
Former Obama adviser Ben Rhodes tweeted: “Manchin calling efforts to protect the right to vote ‘partisan voting legislation’ while de facto embracing GOP voter suppression laws is one of the most offensive uses of political language I’ve ever seen.”
“Democracy has to be replenished and reinforced. The best way forward is to abolish the filibuster and pass the For The People Act,” Andrew Yang, a former Democratic presidential contender and current candidate for New York City mayor, tweeted with a link to a news story about Mr. Manchin.
Mr. Manchin endorsed on Sunday a separate voting bill, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, saying it would update the formula used to ensure that states and localities do not restrict the voting rights of particular groups or populations.
Mr. Biden cited that bill as a priority in a recent speech on the 100th anniversary of the racial attack on “Black Wall Street” in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
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