Which means these new reforms serve to illustrate in a perverse way the scale of the opportunities that will be lost if Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) continues thwarting filibuster reform.
Manchin supports the new package, though he opposes reforming the filibuster to pass it. The bill emerged from negotiations between Manchin and other Democratic senators, including Amy Klobuchar (Minn.) and Raphael G. Warnock (Ga.).
The bill resolves some internal tensions among Democrats and reformers by pairing protections for voting with safeguards against election subversion — avoiding the pitfall of prioritizing one over the other. Here are some key provisions, according to materials circulating among Democrats:
- Enacts an automatic voter registration system for each state
- Mandates 15 days of early voting and registration on Election Day
- Sets standards on voting by mail, ensuring that all voters can receive an absentee ballot and requiring a minimum number of drop boxes
- Creates federal protections that insulate nonpartisan election workers from political pressure and requires states to use paper ballots, both protections against election subversion
- Requires states to follow various criteria in the redistricting of congressional elections, barring map rigging for one party’s extreme benefit, while letting states choose their mode of redistricting (including nonpartisan commissions)
- Sets uniform national standards for states that require voter ID, allowing for a wide range of forms of ID to be used
This package, then, would secure both the casting of votes and the counting of them, while curbing extreme gerrymanders that are expressly designed to achieve anti-majoritarian ends.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has set a vote as early as next week, according to a Democratic aide, and it’s certain virtually no Republicans will vote to break the GOP filibuster. So all eyes will again be on Manchin.
The Manchin problem
Here’s the problem: Manchin remains in thrall to the absurdity that securing democracy must be bipartisan by definition. Manchin supports these reforms but also appears to believe that if they pass on a partisan basis, they will suddenly morph into an exacerbator of our democratic crisis. In this view, passing a partisan bill is inherently bad for democracy, which would somehow supplant whatever good its actual provisions do.
To sustain this, Manchin must continue to maintain it’s actually possible to win 10 GOP senators for such a package, and he is vowing to continue working toward that end. When that doesn’t happen, will Manchin continue to insist on keeping the filibuster?
Manchin, to be sure, is not the only Democrat for this. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and probably a few more moderates are as well. But Manchin has chosen to become the public face of opposition to filibuster reform, so if he gives, prevailing on remaining holdouts might get easier.
The big picture is ugly
Here’s the big picture when it comes to the long-term damage Manchin’s posture threatens.
Republicans have been turning on democracy for some time now. But the Trump era has unquestionably made this much worse, while exposing glaring new vulnerabilities in our system that badly need attention.
Thus it is that Republicans in the states have not just unleashed an extraordinary new wave of voter suppression; they are also increasingly moving toward the position that election outcomes should be subject to overturning simply if they turn out not to their liking.
This comes after Donald Trump and his allies proved perfectly willing to try to overturn a presidential election by pressuring election officials to “find” votes, by pressuring state legislatures to send rogue electors, by pressuring congressional Republicans not to count the rightful ones, which found dozens of GOP takers, and by fomenting insurrectionist mob violence. That raises the prospect of a stolen 2024 election.
All that comes after Trump corrupted the executive branch to an extraordinary degree, by rendering any and all congressional oversight a dead letter, and by trying to turn it into a tool for overturning his election loss, which most Republicans were fine with.
Three big reform packages on the table right now would address all this. The first is the above bill, which would curb all that voter suppression and possibly avert a scenario in which Republicans win the House via extreme gerrymanders alone, a terribly antidemocratic outcome.
The second is a plan to reform the Electoral Count Act, which would make a stolen 2024 election far less likely. The third is the Protecting Our Democracy Act, which would tighten congressional oversight and transparency over the executive branch in ways that would make Trump-style corruption much harder.
None of these will pass if the filibuster remains as is.
“This is a historical crossroads for what kind of democracy we want to be,” Lee Drutman, a senior fellow at New America, told me. “If Congress doesn’t act at this moment, we will see this country slide to an incredibly dangerous place, where it’s a hop, skip and a jump to authoritarianism.”
The Trump era has exposed massive holes in our system that should be met by reforms on a scale of those implemented after Watergate. That the filibuster may be what prevents all of this from happening is terrible to contemplate.