“Can Manchin answer his predecessor’s call on voting rights?”

Jennifer Frost and Yael Bromberg in The Hill:

With his voting rights proposal last week and a compromise on the all-imperative For the People Act, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) carries forward the vital legacy of his predecessor, former West Virginia Sen. Jennings Randolph (D). The For the People Act was filibustered Tuesday by Senate Republicans who blocked debate from the beginning, although it enjoys overwhelming bipartisan support by voters and proposes popular reforms like universal vote by mail, measures to prevent billionaires from buying elections and an end to partisan gerrymandering. 

This week’s outcome is the opening salvo for a summer-long fight to protect voting rights. An important companion measure yet to be introduced — the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act — aims to restore the full power of the Voting Rights Act, which the Supreme Court gutted in 2013, when it found its coverage formula to be outdated. The Lewis Act will prevent future anti-voter state laws from being introduced by updating the formula and restoring Department of Justice pre-clearance. Manchin supports the measure and recently posited that it enjoys bipartisan support on the Hill, despite comments earlier this month by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) deeming it “unnecessary.” 

Can Manchin answer his predecessor’s call on voting rights? Research of archival documents and texts for our books on voting rights history revealed that throughout his career in Congress, first in the House (1933-47) and then in the Senate (1958-85), Randolph consistently pushed for the expansion and protection of what he called the “franchise of freedom.” A small “d” Democrat and member of the Democratic Party, Randolph was strongly committed to the democratic process and believed passionately in the power of government to promote the common good. “If America speaks and if the spirit of the country says action must come,” he told the Washington Post in March of 1942, “you’ll find a hearty and hasty response in Congress.”  

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