Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) is correct that any electoral reform enacted by Congress must be bipartisan — not one party’s rules imposed over the other’s unified opposition.

But his position on the filibuster may need some adjustment if his own stated standard for bipartisan electoral reform is to prevail.

First, let’s focus on why Manchin is right to nix the Democratic Party’s dream elections bill, For the People Act (H.R. 1/S.B. 1), in its current form. Not only does it contain components that are dubious on policy grounds, including campaign finance provisions that would increase funds for extremists such as Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.). It also has items that are poison pills for Republicans, such as mandatory “same-day” registration and eliminating voter identification requirements for on-demand vote-by-mail.

H.R. 1 passed the House with zero Republican votes, and the companion S.B. 1 has zero GOP support in the Senate. That’s because it’s a purely partisan bill aimed at helping the Democratic Party win elections, not impartial reform designed to foster fair electoral competition in America’s traditional two-party system.

If Democrats, such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), keep saying that H.R. 1/S.B. 1, as currently drafted, is essential to secure democracy, they are self-deceived or deceitful. Same-day registration is hardly necessary for the preservation of self-government.

The same goes for no-excuse absentee voting: as long as all eligible voters have adequate in-person opportunities to cast a ballot, and excuse-based absentee voting exists for those who can’t get to the polls — as it did for decades in most states — democracy can survive without on-demand, vote-by-mail for everyone. And reasonable voter ID rules are not voter suppression; in fact, making voters provide a driver’s license or other easily available ID number is a way to avoid imprecise and arbitrary signature-matching requirements that pose a greater risk of disenfranchising valid voters.

Moreover, adopting H.R. 1/S.B. 1 over the objection of every Republican in Congress would be a disaster for democracy, which is still struggling to regain its footing in the aftermath of former president Donald Trump’s “big lie” about the 2020 election being stolen. What’s most imperative for the preservation of democracy in 2022 and 2024 is the willingness of Republicans to accept vote tallies showing that their candidates lost. Achieving this becomes a lot harder if the rules for casting those ballots are forced upon them by a party-line vote — especially when those rules are drawn from the Democratic Party’s wish list of measures that facilitate their own turnout efforts.

Manchin, therefore, is doing everyone a favor by forcing Democrats to eliminate from S.B. 1 those elements that are anathema to Republicans; he is also opening the door for a deal between reasonable Democrats and Republicans who are still willing to collaborate in good faith.

In an op-ed on Sunday, Manchin observed that seven GOP senators courageously stood up for democracy when they voted to convict Trump at his second impeachment trial for inciting the Jan. 6 insurrection. If Democrats can’t craft an electoral reform bill that wins the support of these seven Republicans — or the largely overlapping group of GOP senators who supported the independent Jan. 6 commission — then Democrats need to ask themselves: Whose fault is that?

Manchin has now made it clear, although some are having a hard time hearing the message, that Senate Democrats must negotiate a retooled S.B. 1 that gets reasonable Republicans on board, or they won’t have any chance at electoral reform at all. (The separate John Lewis voting rights bill, although worthy, is not a substitute, especially on redistricting.)

Manchin’s message leaves a nagging question: what happens if he brokers a deal with all seven GOP senators who voted to convict Trump, and perhaps also Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) (who voted for the Jan. 6 commission) as an eighth, but he can’t find a ninth and tenth Republican to overcome a filibuster?

It is too soon to know. With no change to filibuster procedures, that risks leaving electoral reform that meets Manchin’s test of “both Democrats and Republicans coming together” vetoed by a couple of votes. It would mean even a bill essential to protect the republic from authoritarian efforts to repudiate honest elections would fail because a filibuster threshold that once was 67 votes, and now is 60 votes, can’t be revised again to 57 or 58 votes.

Manchin is understandably reluctant to tinker with the filibuster, knowing the shoe sooner or later will be on the other foot. But a small tweak might be necessary to achieve his own priority of bipartisan democracy preservation.

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