Update 536 — Appeal for Reconsideration:
WV Open Letter to Sen. Manchin re S. 1 Vote
Today’s update comes in the form of an open letter to Senator Joe Manchin following his recent Op-ed in the West Virginia Gazette stating his opposition to S. 1, the For the People Act, in current form. The views expressed here reflect a composite of voter voices we’ve heard and data from West Virginia, a red state twice won by Trump by about 40 points, with Republican supermajorities in the state legislature. (They do not reflect the views of 20/20 Vision or the DFAD coalition advocating for S. 1 we are part of.)
Support for political reform, including all the major provisions in S. 1, is 2:1 in West Virginia and many other states. The letter appeals to Sen. Manchin to reconsider his position on this legislation ahead of the debate and vote on S. 1 on the Senate floor later this month. The appeal is to be a constructive part of the solution to our political crisis — achievable given the Senator’s cosponsorship of this very bill last Congress.
Dear Senator Manchin,
I write to you as a West Virginian, a constituent, one of many in the state who appreciate your long service and vote for candidates like you — not for parties. You have always sought to do right by those you represent, and I would like to see you remain in office. Losing your voice in the Senate would be a backward step for the chamber, for the state and nation, and even democracy. I write in support of both your putative re-election prospects in 2024 and interest in representing and serving our state.
These days, it seems hard to find consensus. America is notoriously divided on values and key issues. However, you have consistently bridged this gap both here and in DC, and I am asking you to do it once again. S. 1, the For the People Act, has immense support across our state. Over 90 percent of West Virginians want to modernize and protect our voting systems, reduce the political power of dark money and corporations, and crack-down on the corruption plaguing our politics — all components of S. 1.
79 percent of your constituents support S. 1, including 76 percent of state Republicans, a majority of whom are white men. Only 15 percent of voters oppose it. Voting against S. 1 incurs gratuitous political risk at the expense of accountability and transparency.
I wonder if you are searching futilely for bipartisanship because you are defining it arbitrarily, narrowly, and wrongly. There is unprecedented bipartisan support for S. 1 here at home, regardless of the narrow view of bipartisanship defined by Minority Leader McConnell’s support for legislation.
You’ve represented us for years as a state legislator, Secretary of State, Governor, and Senator. You’ve listened to us before on issues that most affect our state, like rejecting President Trump’s tax cuts for the rich. You said you’d “always defend West Virginia as your Senator.” I believe it’s time for you to follow through on those words once more — trust the bipartisan appeal for S. 1 in West Virginia and support its passage.
Though we lean Republican, West Virginians have long rejected the national and political status quo. As a Democrat from West Virginia, you are a testament to that fact. We don’t want corporate power and Washington corruption overshadowing the will of West Virginians. Our people have long been dispossessed by the corporate powers and anti-democratic forces, not served by them — so we need you to keep our faith in the political system will continue to erode until the fervent spirit of democracy in West Virginia is no more. Ensuring our voting rights and ending corruption would preserve our interests and faith in government, not destroy it.
I know your history as a statesman. You win elections as a Democrat in this state because you try to do right by us regardless of national politics. You have long been an advocate for the same reason. As Governor, you introduced a matching program to finance state Supreme Court races and formed a commission to examine several campaign finance and disclosure requirements of state judicial campaigns. As Secretary of State, you worked to expand early voting and increase election accessibility, and you’re on record stating that the Citizens United v. FEC decision of 2010 has “destroyed this country,” as many Mountaineers I’m sure agree.
As recently as 2019 you were a co-sponsor of a prior iteration of the For the People Act, a bill with fewer bipartisan provisions than currently exist in S. 1. From your rhetoric and actions, I know you believe our democracy is sacred and have governed to preserve that sanctity. Time and time again, your efforts to reform campaign finance, expand voting rights, and increase transparency have aligned with the best interests of the people you serve. So what explains this sudden change in position?
I was encouraged by and wholeheartedly agree with your statement that we must “strengthen our democracy by protecting voting rights, implementing common sense election security reforms, and making our campaign finance system more transparent.” At this moment, when the future of American democracy hangs in the balance and support for reform has only increased in West Virginia, it’s difficult to comprehend the logic of this retreat.
If you have substantive concerns with the bill, it is well within your power to take those concerns up with fellow Democrats who seem willing to revise the legislation. If there are principled objections to the bill, why not take them up with Senator Klobuchar? You surely have the bargaining chips at your disposal. I’d implore you to limit performative meetings and instead speak with us: the constituents and voters who’ve had your back and expect you to have theirs.
You enthusiastically backed the For the People Act in 2019. I wonder what our country has been through since then to change your mind. We’ve witnessed an ugly election cycle featuring lies, confusion, court battles, and protests culminating in the shocking events of January 6. Since then, states legislatures across the nation and in West Virginia have been at work limiting voting access. My question to you is this: what about this past year makes democracy reform seem less necessary? What do you say to the 79% of West Virginians who still throw their support behind the For the People Act? What do you hope this accomplishes with the 15% who oppose it? Or do you mean to fix the bill?
I worry your alternative approaches and perception of the current moment may be flawed. In times of great division like the present, parties have historically done what is necessary to preserve basic democratic principles. Your portrayal of S. 1 as a partisan, divisive bill fails the test of public opinion. But it implies that bipartisan agreement is achievable. Republicans in Washington are not open to H.R. 4 or other Democratic voting legislation (they surely are not). Even if The John Lewis Act gets 60 votes in the Senate, the bill won’t be ready to enter the legislative process until the fall. None of the voter-restrictive law passed, and those yet to pass, will not be subject to the preclearance clause within HR. 4. This leaves a window for some to continue undermining democracy, an effort that may well plague West Virginia soon.
Senator Manchin, at this moment, the future of democracy and our faith in it need this bill most, we are counting on you. We would say, it is incumbent upon you — if you’d seek to be a successful incumbent — to be a part of the solution. In the interest of the West Virginians you serve, I urge you to reconsider your recent opposition to the For the People Act and take a stand to preserve our precious democracy.