Manchin backs election bill show-vote after Abrams’ voter ID support

Sen. Joe Manchin on Tuesday said he will support a Democratic show-vote on an election reform bill after getting fellow Democrats including Stacey Abrams to voice support for voter ID rules that they had previously denounced as racist.

The vote will fail and a final bill wasn’t even drafted ahead of a doomed 5 p.m. motion to invoke cloture, which requires 60 senators to agree to proceed.

Democrats hold just 50 seats and the only major unknown was whether they would stick together in the base-rallying gesture designed to show pushback on Republican state election reforms that President Biden claims amount to “Jim Crow in the 21st Century.”

“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 in a statement. “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.”

Manchin’s announcement and his insistence on changes won’t actually improve the bill’s chances of becoming law, but his proposed changes may substantially alter the national discussion about voter ID rules.

Manchin’s voter ID rules are so loose as to allow copies of utility bills, which Republicans say can be forged easily, in addition to state-issued photo IDs.

Sen. Joe Manchin announced that he will  support a Democratic show-vote on an election reform bill.
Sen. Joe Manchin announced that he will support a Democratic show-vote on an election reform bill.
REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

But Abrams, a former Georgia state official and the leader of the Democratic push, gave a broad nod to requiring voters to establish their identity before being allowed to vote.

“No one has ever objected to having to prove who you are to vote,” Abrams told CNN last week. “It’s been part of our nation’s history since the inception of voting.”

Abrams has been careful to walk a fine line on voter ID, with her definition of the term widely differing from the Republican conception of photo IDs being matched to faces at the polls.

At an April hearing she told senators “yes” that she supports voter ID laws. But she added: “what I’ve objected to is restrictive voter identification laws that narrow the set of permissible materials.”

Republican state-level reforms that require voters to present a photo ID have widely been denounced by Democrats who claim it is essentially an illegal poll tax designed to disenfranchise poorer and disproportionately black citizens.

For example, Democrats said they were outraged over a recent Georgia reform law that expanded early voting but required a photo ID to begin the absentee ballot process. That bill was decried as a more insidious version of Jim Crow-era racism by Democrats, with Biden calling the bill “Jim Eagle,” using a larger bird species to make his point.

Proponents of voter ID argue that the bar for verification of who a person is should not be lower for voting than it is for getting a driver’s license.

Manchin's support for the show vote came after some Democrats like Stacey Abrams began to voice support for voter ID laws.
Manchin’s support for the show vote came after some Democrats like Stacey Abrams began to voice support for voter ID laws.
AP Photo/Butch Dill

Although it’s not clear what wording would be included in the Senate bill that is certain to be blocked Tuesday, Manchin’s support may ensure a united Democratic block, depriving Republicans of the opportunity to cite bipartisan opposition.

But if Manchin’s national voter ID requirement is incorporated, that would likely shave off the votes of leftwing Democrats. It’s possible that dilemma would be avoided by promises of post-cloture amendments to one side or the other that allows a united front on the cloture vote despite deep intra-Democratic divisions.

Some more liberal Democrats have complained about Manchin’s middle-of-the-road approach. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) accused him of backing “voter suppression.”

The large doomed bill, called SR 1, would in its original form bring sweeping changes to electioneering. It would require states to allow same-day voter registration and mandate two weeks of early voting. And it would make Election Day a holiday.

Republicans have trained fire on the bill and used it as a rallying cry of their own ahead of the 2022 midterm elections, denouncing provisions that would allow for so-called “ballot harvesting,” enhance the power of the Federal Election Commission and dole out taxpayer funds to political campaigns.

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