CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The U.S. Senate will consider this week whether to advance a sweeping voting bill that lacks Republican support.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., announced in a letter to the Senate Democratic Caucus he will file cloture on the Freedom to Vote Act on Monday. The vote would happen Wednesday, in which 60 senators would have to agree to move forward.
Democrats have made voting rights a leading issue after several Republican-led state legislatures approved bills that critics say hinder voting access for poor and minority communities.
Senate Democrats introduced the Freedom to Vote Act in September. Lawmakers based the bill’s foundation on the For the People Act, the election proposal that Republicans blocked in June.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., is a co-sponsor of the Freedom to Vote Act. He has worked on building GOP support for the bill, but acknowledged last week to reporters there are no Republicans backing the proposal. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., opposes the measure.
“I’m just going to keep working and basically, you modify it,” Manchin said following a Senate field hearing in Beckley. “I’m still working with them.”
The Freedom to Vote Act includes multiple provisions, including the enactment of automatic voter registration in every state, allowing same-day voter registration, establishing a nationwide standard for identification in states where required, improving access to mail-in ballot drop boxes, and allowing 15 days of early voting in federal elections. The measure does not include language on public financing, which Manchin opposed when part of the For the People Act.
Manchin agreed to move forward with For the People Act in June after colleagues additionally inserted a provision on voter ID.
“The first bill was just absolutely too far-reaching. Had too many things in it,” Manchin said.
Republicans criticized the For the People Act for giving the federal government too much authority into elections. West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner and 54 county clerks were among the West Virginia officials opposed to the bill.
Capito, who helped lead last week’s Environment and Public Works Committee hearing, described the latest bill as a “takeover” of state election systems.
“It tells clerks and it tells voting officers in the different states how to conduct their local elections, how they conduct their mail-in voting,” she told MetroNews. “We need to tailor-make these to your own populations so that we get the maximum effect. We want more people to vote, but what works in Washington state is not going to work in West Virginia.”
Manchin noted Republicans are willing to pass voting legislation; Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski joined Manchin in asking Congress to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and update rules giving the federal government authority to review local and state laws. The U.S. Supreme Court struck the review process down in 2013.
“The most precious thing you have — the most valued thing you have — is your individual vote, and we have to make sure that you’re able to cast it and not be intimidated,” he said. “You’ve got to make sure it is counted properly and that it goes toward whoever gets the majority, and we live by that decision, your vote.”
The Senate returns to the nation’s capital on Monday after a weeklong state work period.