The Struggle for the Soul of America: Joe Manchin, the Filibuster and the Right to Vote

The right to vote is the central principle of American democracy. Yet how representative can a democracy be if millions of its citizens are denied the right to vote through hundreds of state voter suppression laws?[[1]]

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) is the only Democratic senator who is not a co-sponsor of S1, the Senate version of the For the People Act.[2] This landmark Act includes, among other provisions:

·    automatic voter registration and other steps to modernize our elections

·    a national guarantee of free and fair elections without voter suppression, coupled with a commitment to restore the full protections of the Voting Rights Act

·    small donor public financing to empower ordinary Americans instead of big donors (at no cost to taxpayers) and other critical campaign finance reforms

·    an end to partisan gerrymandering

·    a much-needed overhaul of federal ethics rules[3]

Most importantly, the Act would thwart virtually every voter suppression bill currently pending in the states.

Manchin supports the right to vote, but he wants the final bill to be bipartisan. Recently, he wrote, “As the Senate prepares to take up the For the People Act, we must work toward a bipartisan solution that protects everyone’s right to vote, secures our elections from foreign interference, and increases transparency in our campaign finance laws.”[4]

In an ideal world, I would agree with Sen. Manchin. But in the real world where Mitch McConnell is the intractable leader of Senate Republicans, bipartisanship is unthinkable. Not only did McConnell call S1 a “solution in search of a problem,” but he also flatly denied that GOP lawmakers were “engaging in trying to suppress voters, whatsoever.”[5]

McConnell and his Republican colleagues choose to ignore the Brennan Center for Justice’s recent report that 361 bills to make it harder to vote have been introduced in 47 states in the first three months of this year, overwhelmingly by Republicans.[6] Still, no Republican senator has indicated any support for the Act.

Carving out an exception to the filibuster for voting rights legislation may be the only way to pass S1 and guarantee the right to vote for millions of Americans. But Manchin asserts that he will not vote to eliminate or weaken the filibuster.[7]

The ball is in Manchin’s court. He can stick to his bipartisan demands, in which the Republicans clearly have no interest, and be the senator that allowed Republican voter suppression to cripple our democracy. Or he can join his fellow Democrats in supporting voters’ rights, save our democracy and not let a Republican filibuster stand in the way.

Manchin can’t have it both ways. Write Sen. Manchin at 306 Hart Senate Office Bldg, Washington, DC 20510; call his office at 202-224-3954; or email him using this form: Demand that the senator stick with the Democrats and support the right to vote for all Americans.

Bruce Berlin, J.D.

A retired, public sector ethics attorney, Berlin is the author of Breaking Big Money’s Grip on America (See, the founder of New Mexicans for Money Out of Politics, a former U.S. Institute of Peace fellow, and the founder and former executive director of The Trinity Forum for International Security and Conflict Resolution. He can be reached at

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[3] Ibid.





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