Senator Joe Manchin announced his opposition to the proposed For The People Act, which would create sweeping reforms to the election process and ethics rules for U.S. congressmen and women. The bill passed the House of Representatives, but due to the distribution of power in the Senate, Manchin’s opposition means the bill will likely not pass.
Manchin announced his opposition in an opinion editorial submitted to The Charleston Gazette-Mail on June 6.
“Democrats in Congress have proposed a sweeping election reform bill called the For the People Act,” wrote Manchin. “This more than 800-page bill has garnered zero Republican support. Why? Are the very Republican senators who voted to impeach Trump because of actions that led to an attack on our democracy unwilling to support actions to strengthen our democracy? Are these same senators, whom many in my party applauded for their courage, now threats to the very democracy we seek to protect? The truth, I would argue, is that voting and election reform that is done in a partisan manner will all but ensure partisan divisions continue to deepen.”
Manchin’s opposition comes after his office received a letter dated May 26 from the West Virginia County Clerks’ Association signed by 54 of West Virginia’s 55 county clerks.
“Dear Senator Manchin,” reads the letter. “We, the undersigned County Clerks in West Virginia, stand together and united, as the West Virginia County Clerks’ Association in firm opposition to S. 1. We support your opposition to S. 1, and stand with you in your opposition of the bill and in support of maintaining the Senate filibuster for elections legislation.”
Among the signatures is Greenbrier County Clerk Robin Loudermilk, who explained why she signed the letter.
“We go over and beyond and out of our way to make sure everybody gets to vote. We try our best and make sure there is no fraud [in Greenbrier County],” said Loudermilk. “… There probably are a few good things in there that would be okay, but for the most part, none of it makes any sense. … I just don’t think that’s right for us, that’s why I signed it.”
When asked, Loudermilk explained her opposition to sections of the bill, such as how lack of internet could impact same-day voter registration.
“There’s no way [same-day voter registration] could work,” Loudermilk said. “Some of these polling places don’t have internet. How can you do same-day voter registration? Let’s say you went to Little Sewell and registered to vote and then you come over here to Lewisburg. We’re not going to know you registered to vote over there, so you’d be registering over here again and voting again. You could vote five or six times.”
Loudermilk also noted the bill would not require signatures on the ballot, explaining “We check signatures on everything when it comes to elections and they’re wanting to do away with us checking the signatures and everything.”
However, the text of the bill, available on Congress’ website, explains the state “may not accept and process an absentee ballot submitted by any individual with respect to an election for Federal office unless the State verifies the identification of the individual by comparing the individual’s signature on the absentee ballot with the individual’s signature on the official list of registered voters in the State.”
If someone registers online, the signature on file would be taken from another state agency, such as the motor vehicle authority, or submitted electronically, or “permit the individual to provide a signature at the time the individual requests a ballot in an election (whether the individual requests the ballot at a polling place or requests the ballot by mail).
The bill would not allow an election official to find a discrepancy between a signature on an absentee ballot and the on-file signatures unless “at least 2 election officials make the determination, and each official who makes the determination has received training in procedures used to verify signatures.”
Loudermilk also cited the reliability of the 2020 election as a reason for not enacting the bill.
“That would be taking all the pride in elections and how we do them, check the signatures, that would just take all our pride away,” Loudermilk said. “I feel that we, not just me as county clerk but other county clerks, too, pride in what we’ve done. We’ve kept things from being fraudulent.”
According to the section-by-section breakdown provided by the Democracy Reform Task Force of S.1, the For The People Act of 2021, the bill would, among many things:
– Requires states to permit voters to register on the day of a federal election, including during early voting.
– Requires each state to make available online voter registration, correction, cancellation and designation of party affiliation.
– Early Voting Requires at least 15 consecutive days of early voting for federal elections. Requires that early voting locations be near public transportation, in rural areas and open for at least 10 hours per day.
– Prohibits providing false information about elections to hinder or discourage voting and increases penalties for voter intimidation.
– Declares the right of citizens to vote in federal elections will not be denied because of a criminal conviction unless a citizen is serving a felony sentence in a correctional facility.
– Amends the Federal Election Campaign Act to create a reporting requirement of disclosing reportable foreign contacts. Creates an obligation for each political committee to notify the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Federal Election Commission of the contact and provide a summary of circumstances not later than one week after said contact.
– Requires super PACs, 501(c)4 groups and other organizations spending money in elections and on judicial nominations to disclose donors who contribute more than $10,000.
– Requires states to use individual, durable, voter-verified paper ballots and that said ballots are counted by hand or an optical character recognition device.
– Requires that states seek to use American-made voting machines.
– Establishes the ‘Election Security Bug Bounty Program’ to encourage independent assessments of election systems by technical experts
– Requires large online platforms to maintain and make public in machine readable format a complete record of any request to purchase qualified political advertisements made by a person whose aggregate requests on the online platform during the calendar year exceeds $500.
– Repeals existing prohibition on the Executive Branch from promulgating rules to require government contractors to disclose all of their political spending.
– Establishes a publicly financed 6-1 matching system on small-dollar donations for qualified Senate candidates who demonstrate broad-based support and reject high-dollar contributions.
– Defines prohibited coordination between campaigns and super PACs. Creates “coordinated spender” category to ensure single-candidate super PACs do not operate as arms of campaigns.
– Establishes deadline by which candidates not running again must disburse all campaign funds
– Requires the President and the Vice President, within 30 days of taking office, to divest financial interests that pose a conflict of interest or disclose information about their business interests
– Prohibits Congress members from serving on boards of for-profit entities
“Unfortunately, we now are witnessing that the fundamental right to vote has itself become overtly politicized,” Manchin wrote. “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.”