For now, Schumer still plans to put the bill to a vote toward the end of June. But Democrats are clearly weighing the path forward. Manchin has expressed support for a different voting rights bill known as the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, which would help safeguard existing voting rights protections and reestablish a requirement that states gain “preclearance” from the federal government before making major changes to voting their laws. A civil rights-era federal law only required preclearance of certain southern states with a history of discriminatory voting practices before it was gutted by the Supreme Court in a 2013 decision. Manchin has expressed support for reinstating that preclearance bar for all 50 states, a threshold that has also gained the backing of Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.
But the John Lewis bill is more limited in scope than the For The People Act, and although it would help protect voting rights in future elections, it wouldn’t address any of the GOP’s current voter suppression efforts in the states. House passage of the John Lewis bill has also been held up until at least the fall based on certain challenges working their way through the courts.
Naturally, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is opposed to both—no voting protections on his watch. On Tuesday, he criticized the John Lewis bill as granting “the Justice Department almost total ability to determine the voting systems of every state in America.”
The bottom line is that neither of the two votings rights bills are viable in the Senate without either garnering 10 GOP votes or modifying the 60-vote threshold created by the filibuster. While both of those occurrences are highly improbable, modifying the filibuster remains the more likely of the two.
For now, Democrats are still trying to figure out exactly which provisions of the For The People Act Manchin objects to. He has not specified his hesitations to date and has also expressed support for certain provisions, such as requiring at least 15 days of early voting including weekends.
Progressive Democrats also seem open to exploring some changes to For The People Act before a vote later this month, but they need clear direction from Manchin about his misgivings with the current legislation, which he has committed to outlining.
Sen. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii told the Journal she would be open to backing a more limited bill if Democrats could get a handle on Manchin’s objections.
“I frankly don’t know, for example, where Joe is in terms of the actual provisions because if we’re going to get something done, we have to talk about the actual provisions,” she said.
Many of the bill’s provisions poll extremely well with voters, including critical ones related to preventing foreign interference, increasing election security, and establishing nonpartisan redistricting—all of which poll at about 75% support or higher. So the building blocks exist for a substantive voting rights bill that is perhaps broader than the John Lewis Voting Rights Act but less expansive than the For The People Act. And if Manchin is true to his word, he does support the fundamental principle of protecting the right to vote.
“I’m very much concerned about our democracy, protecting people’s voting rights, making sure that that’s done and making sure we understand how fragile, how fragile we are as a country today,” Manchin said Tuesday following a meeting with civil rights leaders such as Derrick Johnson, president of the NAACP, and Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League.
All that is to say, getting some sort of important voting rights protections through the Senate is still possible, but threading that needle will be extremely difficult. Certainly, the first order of business will be generating a bill that Manchin can support, which could simply mean tweaking For The People or perhaps eventually merging elements of the two bills together. If several other Republicans are willing to sign on, then Senate Democrats can make the argument that passing critical safeguards to our democracy that enjoy bipartisan support is worth creating a workaround to the filibuster, even if it’s a one-off.