A Modest Step on Voting Integrity

It's Manchin-approved.

EDS NOTE: OBSCENITY – Pro Trump supporters rally outside the State Capitol, Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020, in Phoenix. President-elect Joe Biden defeated President Donald Trump on Saturday to become the 46th president of the United States. (AP Photo/Matt York)

As has been a theme throughout this Congress, a Senate that’s split 50-50 among the party caucuses and in which the opposition party is voting in lockstep whereas at least two members of the majority (by virtue of the Vice President as tie-breaker) party are unreliable votes is one in which not much gets done. The manifestation germane to this post is the fact that the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act is doomed, as it is subject to the filibuster rule and the two recalcitrant Democrats, Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, have refused to support changing the rules to allow a simple majority vote.

What we’ve left with is pretty thin gruel: a compromise bill narrowly aimed at fixing the loophole in an 1887 law that was the proximate pretext for the Capitol riots of last January 6. The NYT:

Two senators working on an overhaul of the little-known law that former President Donald J. Trump and his allies tried to use to overturn the 2020 election pledged on Sunday that their legislation would pass the Senate, saying that recent revelations about the plot made their work even more important.

In a joint interview on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Senators Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia, and Lisa Murkowski, Republican of Alaska, said their efforts to rewrite the Electoral Count Act of 1887 were gaining broader support in the Senate, with as many as 20 senators taking part in the discussions.

“Absolutely, it will pass,” Mr. Manchin said of an overhaul of the law, which dictates how Congress formalizes elections.

He said efforts by Mr. Trump and his allies to exploit “ambiguity” in the law were “what caused the insurrection” — the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol. That misreading of the statute led to a plan by Mr. Trump and his allies to amass a crowd outside the Capitol to try to pressure Congress and Vice President Mike Pence, who presided over Congress’s official count of electoral votes, to overturn the results of the election.

Ms. Murkowski said the rewrite could be expanded to include other protections for democracy, such as a crackdown on threats and harassment against election workers.

“We want to make sure that if you are going to be an election worker,” Ms. Murkowski said, “you don’t feel intimidated or threatened or harassed.”

A bipartisan group of at least 15 senators — which includes Mr. Manchin and Ms. Murkowski and is led by Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine — recently began discussions with another group that features top Democrats who have studied the issue for months. That group includes Senator Angus King, independent of Maine; Senator Amy Klobuchar, Democrat of Minnesota; and Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois.

I haven’t studied all of the provisions in the Lewis bill (which started as HR1) but generally prefer a more comprehensive reform aimed at protecting and standardizing voting for federal offices. But, again, that’s not going to happen absent a shocking Democratic surge that results in an increased margin in the Senate after the midterms. I wouldn’t hold my breath.

This bill would be a modest step, indeed, but it’s better than nothing. Getting at least a handful of Republican votes would be a bonus and a small step to the “Republican Party that is a sane alternative” that the WSJ editorial board wishes for, albeit in an editorial that makes it seem that the Democrats are at least, if not more, culpable in delegitimating our elections.

One wonders, though, if the Progressive Caucus will withhold their support on the basis that a tenth of a loaf is worse than none. They’re clearly frustrated by how little of their agenda has been passed despite controlling the White House, the House, and, ostensibly the Senate.

FILED UNDER: Congress, Democracy, US Politics, US Senate, Voting
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. MarkedMan says:

    They’re clearly frustrated by how little of their agenda has been passed despite controlling the White House, the House, and, ostensibly the Senate.

    I’m not a particular defender of the progressives, but this seems ad hominem to me. They, like any group, wish all of their initiatives would pass. But have they shown an unwillingness to compromise? Have they formed a circular firing squad? In truth, I’ve been impressed at how disciplined and targeted they have been. They seem well aware that they don’t have the votes and are striving mightily to get anything they can through in any way. Sinema and Manchin and, of course, every single Republican, are adamant they will block anything that even slightly inconveniences the rich or the powerful. That doesn’t make it difficult for just the progressives.

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  2. alanstorm says:

    Sinema and Manchin and, of course, every single Republican, are adamant they will block anything that even slightly inconveniences the rich or the powerful.

    Try again. The party of the rich and powerful today isn’t the Republicans.

  3. MarkedMan says:

    Ah. We seem to have a new trumper here. Or did I just not notice before?

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  4. @MarkedMan: He has been around for a while.

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  5. MarkedMan says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: [adds to the mental blocked list…]

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  6. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @alanstorm: BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA…. gasp…. wheeze…

    10,000 unemployed comedians and here you are giving it away for free.

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  7. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @MarkedMan: They seem well aware that they don’t have the votes and are striving mightily to get anything they can through in any way.

    Yep, but hey, those dirty lefties are just as far out there on the left as Paul Gosar or Marjorie Taylor Greene or Madison Cawthorh or Lauren Boebert are on the right.

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  8. Michael Reynolds says:

    @MarkedMan:
    Ditto. I wish progressives would learn how to make more friends and fewer enemies, but the big voices, Bernie and Warren, have behaved very well. There’s even a bit of humility and reflection going on at places like Progress Pond. Fingers crossed we get to November without any new initiatives to outlaw double-ply toilet paper or give the vote to rhesus monkeys.

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  9. Scott F. says:

    This bill would be a modest step, indeed, but it’s better than nothing.

    I‘m not so sure this is better than nothing. Manchin and Murkowski were on CNN yesterday celebrating this “thin gruel” as epic evidence that bipartisanship can still do important work for the American people in this era of dysfunction.

    Yes, this moderate step could have small value, particularly if the election worker protections survive. But, mostly this bill would provide cover for bad faith politicians and we should expose self-congratulatory actions as such when democracy is at stake.

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  10. Gustopher says:

    IIRC, Manchin and Sinema are both on board with the text of the Joe Lewis bill, but are opposed to nuking the filibuster to pass it. I don’t see how this changes that calculus. Yes, they will support a smaller bill that they are also unwilling to blow up the filibuster for.

    And, the Progressives did their part. Even after they got rolled on BBB, they supported the infrastructure bill with enough votes so it passed. There were a few nays, but it’s a 40 person caucus, and the vast majority voted for it. No reason to think that if the votes were needed the others wouldn’t have come around.

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  11. Gustopher says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    give the vote to rhesus monkeys.

    Friendly Advice: if you don’t want to be (perhaps willfully) misunderstood, never make reference to monkeys in a political discussion. I’m hoping this is not a line that you thought was so clever that you needed to put it on Twitter, because someone is going to find offense, and even if they’re obviously wrong, do you want to deal with that bullshit? Go with marine mammals.

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  12. just nutha says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Fingers crossed we get to November without any new initiatives to outlaw double-ply toilet paper or give the vote to rhesus monkeys.

    Hyperbole much? You’re starting to sound like El Rushbo. Are you starting to have difficulty remembering or anything?

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  13. Mister Bluster says:

    The party of the rich and powerful today isn’t the Republicans.

    I just saw Trump panhandling the other day!

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  14. Mister Bluster says:

    @just nutha:..You’re starting to sound like El Rushbo.

    He’s channeling Limbaugh. It’s another side effect of the vaccine.

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  15. just nutha says:

    @Mister Bluster:

    It’s another side effect…

    Terrifying if true. :-O

  16. DK says:

    One wonders, though, if the Progressive Caucus will withhold their support on the basis that a tenth of a loaf is worse than none.

    It’s not even the same loaf. It’s a bill to protect Congress and election workers from Trump and violent Trumpers. It’s not a bill to protect voters and and voting rights from vote suppression.

    I think “progressives” are frustrated because they were lied to about advancing and passing BBB and BIF together. And the agenda that’s not being passed is the president’s agenda. Once again, BBB was not a Medicare For All and Green New Deal bill.

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  17. Lounsbury says:

    @MarkedMan: How odd, from a non pre-sold perspective, the hard Left fraction rather seems quite inclined to directing rather extenstive fire on heretical centrists and other Democrats who are not , rather more fire than at Republicans. Of course that is a tendency here among the Lefty Left commentariat so … mirrors I suppose.

    @DK: They were not “lied to”, there was a political bet and a manoeuver to delink the hostage as self-hostage-taking and threats to shoot oneself in a body are not actual leverage in deal making when the other side is actually perfectly happy for you to shoot yourself.

    Self-deception or delusion on the Left that going for multiple unprecedentedly large fiscal bills in one session, while having a literal razor thin margin was simply innumeracy in political capital calcuation.

    @Scott F.: One should think that closing an open legal loophole to a legalised autogolpe after your 6 Jan experience would be given actual value. But no, punishing the heretics seems more important.

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  18. gVOR08 says:

    @MarkedMan: With Republicans we have to be careful to distinguish between voters and pros. Many of the voters see the MAGA movement as populist. If you read TAC or NRO Corner, some conservatives have a big thing about believing the Republicans are actually a populist party. And the party pros are happy to throw the voters a culture war bone now and again. Eager, in fact, if you watch, say, my Gov. DeUseless. @alanstorm: may actually believe they’re no longer the Party of Koch and Exxon. And maybe the inmates will eventually take over the asylum.

    I make a distinction between the usual two forms of “populism”. There is bottom up genuine popularism that benefits the populi, like the old Prairie Populists. (Full disclosure, my parents were Farmer’s Union in their youth.) The more common populism is top down, the blood and soil, culture war, conservatism which seems to only ever benefit the 1%. A distinction I’m not sure is made in Poli Sci. I’ll agree the R Party is actually populist when McConnell gives the working class anything that actually costs the 1% money.

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  19. Sleeping Dog says:

    @gVOR08:

    Good distinction. There was a time when movement conservatives, as distinct from party pros, believed that they could control and channel the religious right, till they couldn’t and the were cooped by it when TFG exposed the game. The same dynamic is going on now, the party pros, Hawley, Cruz, Cotton, etc are trying to ride the bull and maybe they will. But there is a real possibility that the emerging generation of R candidates won’t be controllable. Do you think any of the party pros are happy with the likes of MTG, Gantz and Cawthorn?

    Today R populism is white/christian nationalism with a few bones tossed on economic issues. The bones are like those that were tossed to the religious right from Reagan to Romney. At some point the populous right will want some economic benefits.

    Post TFG, the R’s are going to generate a lot of Ph.D thesis.

  20. DK says:

    @Lounsbury: Yes, they and the entire party were lied to, multiple times. The president and his communications team acknowledged as much in December, in a (politically unwise) statement blasting Manchin for lying to the president.

    Sorry, you also can’t lie to me or gaslight me about it. It just happened, we all watched it. I’m not sure what tortured metaphors about hostage taking have to do with politicians being dishonest about their commitments.

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  21. Scott F. says:

    @Lounsbury:
    For someone with a self-professed “non pre-sold perspective” that’s some pretty lousy reading comprehension you are demonstrating. I gave what small credit was due Manchin and Murkowski for what they hope for from their legislation, though I don’t count a filibuster busting 10 Republican Senators in that bipartisan working group so their bill isn’t any more real policy than BBB at this point.

    Nevertheless, let’s say they pass their bill with the very maximum of what they propose. If you think that will have closed off any meaningful avenue to a legalized autogolpe, then you haven’t been paying attention. The threat has never really been the convoluted Electoral Vote count obstruction path conjured from John Eastman’s fevered imagination. The threat was, and continues to be, state level Republican efforts to make it harder for people to vote and easier for partisan state legislatures to meddle with election outcomes.

    I would think that a smart guy like you wouldn’t be so taken by Manchin’s and Murkowski’s misdirection.

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  22. just nutha says:

    @Scott F.: It does help to remember that Lounsbery is a stakeholder in the outcome of American elections in no meaningful way, so his observations are theoretical in the extreme a significant portion of the time.

    1
  23. ImProPer says:

    @alanstorm:

    You may be right, they might believe that after the historical windfall of 2016 through 2020, that the Republicans couldn’t possibly give them much more. Think they’re Libertarians now?

  24. Barry says:

    James, when you are relying on the WSJ, your position is not strong.

    Also, we’ve seen the Manchin thing before, as well as Murakowski.

    3
  25. wr says:

    @Lounsbury: “How odd, from a non pre-sold perspective, the hard Left fraction rather seems quite inclined to directing rather extenstive fire on heretical centrists and other Democrats who are not , rather more fire than at Republicans. ”

    Actually, that hasn’t been happening at all, and of course you can’t point to an instance of the progressives going after the centrists in congress — the vitriol was flowing almost entirely the other direction, although a truce seems to have been called.

    But of course, when confronted with a choice between the obvious truth and a dated cliche that fits your prejudices, you go with the cliche. Because why should you ever let reality interfere with your bigotry?

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  26. Dude Kembro says:

    @wr: You haven’t gotten the memo that we’re now either pretending Biden is “hard Left” or that it’s Bernie/Warren/AOC/Jayapal who’ve been undermining the president and sabotaging his agenda, not the hard Center’s Manchin and $inema.

    Who you gonna believe? The preferred “progressives always evil / centrists always flawless” narrative or that lying reality based on events that actually happened?

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  27. Jay L Gischer says:

    You know, I’m hearing a bunch of very different stories about the Manchin thing. Some say Manchin was super consistent in his negotiation with Biden, others not so much. I don’t believe I have a good way to confirm one narrative over the others, and all the stories come from sources I respect. So, I’m not really sure how to reconcile this, and I’m unlikely to take sides.