It should not be a partisan issue to say that voting should be encouraged and that Congress should object when states make it more difficult to vote. Republican officials across the nation are cracking down on voting based on the lie that elections in the United States are rife with fraud. They are also gearing up to gerrymander congressional districts with heretofore unseen technical precision. The legitimate functioning of the nation’s democratic system is at stake.
Mr. Manchin’s plan is not a Democratic wish list like H.R. 1, the wide-ranging bill that Democratic leaders prefer. It includes reforms favored by Republicans such as a nationwide voter-ID policy, along with a raft of proposals to which no one committed to a free and fair democracy should object. His plan would make Election Day a public holiday, mandate 15 days of early voting, create an automatic voter-registration system, require states to notify voters if their polling places change and allow voters who show up to the wrong precinct to cast provisional ballots, at least in non-local races.
It is telling that the argument Republicans most often make against proposals such as Mr. Manchin’s is not that early voting and voter notifications are bad ideas, but that setting election rules is the states’ job, not the federal government’s. They are wrong, according to the plain text of the Constitution, which expressly gives Congress power over federal elections. But the consequence of congressional inaction is to enable Republican state leaders to continue stacking election rules against Democrats, limiting access to the ballot box and manipulating voting maps to obtain illegitimate partisan advantage.
Mr. Manchin has insisted that major federal election reform should be bipartisan. But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) immediately dismissed Mr. Manchin’s compromise, predicting that not a single Republican senator would vote for it. State-level Republicans certainly have not fretted about bipartisanship as they have engaged in their vote-suppression campaign.
Mr. Manchin’s reforms deserve a full hearing and an up-or-down vote. If his proposal does not get its due, Democrats should consider reforming the filibuster. There is no shortage of ideas about how to adjust the procedural maneuver without abolishing it, such as demanding that minority senators show up to sustain their filibusters; requiring three-fifths of present and voting senators to end a filibuster, rather than three-fifths of all senators; or reducing the number of votes needed to overcome filibusters. These are just a few possibilities.
If Republicans will not permit a vote on even the most obvious of pro-voting reforms, something needs to change. Senators should be cautious in reshaping the chamber’s rules — but not to a fault.