by Lauren V. Williams
Joe Manchin has his own plan to protect voting rights. While the other 49 Democratic Senators have co-sponsored the For the People Act, the Democratic Senator from West Virginia is focused on the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. Although Voting Rights Advancement Act is named after the late civil rights icon, Manchin’s plan to only focus on this bill would fail John Lewis’ legacy. In a time of America’s great crisis, the For the People Act is the best, and perhaps only, way to ensure the rights of everyday Americans to participate in a free and fair democracy.
To be clear, passing the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act would considerably protect the right to vote in the future. The bill would restore the preclearance requirement of the original Voting Rights Act. It required states with a history of racial discrimination to get approval from the Justice Department before passing new voting laws. The conservative majority on the Supreme Court gutted it in 2013. Restrictive voting laws have increased especially in the years since, disproportionately preventing Black voters from the ballot box.
However, Manchin’s proposal to solely focus on John Lewis has its flaws. Since John Lewis wouldn’t be applied retroactively, the discriminatory laws already passed by states like Georgia and Florida would still stand. In fact, more states may simply rush to pass their own suppressive laws before John Lewis goes into effect. John Lewis may only be a short-term solution anyway, given that the Supreme Court could easily strike down preclearance again.
The For the People Act would repeal those restrictions in place today and proposed in the future. It would provide online, automatic voter registration, stop voter purges, expand vote by mail, increase voting hours and more. While it’s still possible that the Supreme Court strikes parts of the For the People Act down, there’s precedent of the Court upholding similar changes to federal election law.
In a country burdened by voter suppression, an insurrection and widespread distrust of the system, an expansion of voting rights isn’t enough to protect democracy. The For the People Act would also end partisan and racial gerrymandering, effectively preventing politicians from picking their voters and entrenching their power. It would get dark money out of politics by requiring super PACs to disclose their donors. It would enhance election security by expanding the use of paper ballots. It would also combat corruption in government by increasing the transparency between politicians and their financial interests.
Ultimately, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act is additive, but not substantial enough to cultivate democracy at its roots. The For the People Act would make America into the democracy it proclaims to be: one whose government is chosen by its people; one where someone’s race, wealth or position of power doesn’t affect their ability to vote; one where everyone is created equal. That is what John Lewis, who bled for the rights of the disenfranchised, would’ve wanted. That’s why Joe Manchin’s proposal isn’t enough.