I have written this piece for Slate. It begins:
Sen. Joe Manchin, who thus far has opposed Democrats’ big election reform bill, has finally made his counteroffer. On Wednesday, the West Virginian proposed a series of changes to the “For the People Act” that could win his vote. Democrats should grab the deal, even though it is not perfect, is still unlikely to pass, and doesn’t yet address the greatest threat in upcoming elections: the danger of election subversion….
With new pressure on Manchin since he again backed the filibuster and stated his explicit opposition to the initial version of the For the People Act earlier this month, he finally released his counteroffer on Wednesday. It includes a number of the most important voting rights and campaign finance priorities of the original bill, including a requirement of 15 days of early voting in federal elections, automatic voter registration, limits on partisan gerrymandering, and improved campaign finance disclosure. He’s also on board with extending campaign finance provisions to communications on the internet and to currently non-disclosing “dark money” groups, prohibiting false information about when, where, and how people vote, and an updated preclearance process.
Yes, Democrats should jump at the opportunity to pass such a bill, but it is also fair to acknowledge it is far from perfect. Many of the darlings in the For the People Act are not on Manchin’s list, such as felon re-enfranchisement, public financing of congressional elections, restructuring the often-deadlocked Federal Election Commission, and limiting state voter purges. Not only would the Manchin proposal continue to allow states to engage in voter purges, it also will require some form of voter identification for voting in federal elections, though in a more relaxed form than some of the strict rules some states have enacted. It also would weaken some of the standards for restoring preclearance under the John Lewis bill, making it harder to get a jurisdiction covered by the requirement and easier for a jurisdiction to get out from under its coverage.
Again, this is a good deal being offered to Democrats, and Democrats should grab it. Voter identification is not necessarily bad, if it is implemented fairly, has ways for people lacking ID to still vote, and is funded fully by the government. Many of the items on the Democratic wishlist not here are much less urgent than what is being offered and can be pursued another time….
Ultimately, the biggest problem with the Manchin counteroffer is its failure to address the danger of election subversion—that Republicans are reworking state election laws to make it easier for partisan officials to miscount votes to alter election outcomes. A key provision of the For the People Act that works against election subversion is a requirement for all states to use paper ballots in all elections. Did Manchin leave that off the list because he was just listing highlights or because he opposes the provision? Or is it because West Virginia is one of the few states experimenting with Internet voting? I hope it is the former: having a paper record of votes that can be counted independently by courts or other neutral bodies is an essential bulwark against election subversion. And there are other provisions for fair election review that were excluded from the initial bill and that are missing from Manchin’s proposal, which need to be added as well, such as those requiring transparency in the vote counting process.