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Why the fight for voting rights protections isn't over just yet

There's a growing conversation among Democrats, who saying encouraging things about protecting Americans' right to vote.


In early June, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) rejected his party's For the People Act, deeming it overly ambitious in its scope. Soon after, the conservative Democrat unveiled an alternative package on voting rights, which Republicans promptly killed, despite elements that were specifically designed to make them happy.

At that point, the conventional wisdom concluded that the push to protect voting rights at the federal level was, for all intents and purposes, dead.

But it's best not to give up hope just yet. The Washington Post reported yesterday afternoon:

Senate Democrats are preparing to release a revised voting rights bill as soon as this week, hoping to keep the legislation alive a month after Republicans blocked the consideration of a previous, more sweeping proposal. Several key senators huddled inside Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer's office on Wednesday to hash out the details of the bill, which is expected to at least partially incorporate a framework assembled by Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.), who expressed qualms about the previous bill, known as the For the People Act.

Sen. Raphael G. Warnock (D-Ga.), who asked Schumer to organize the private meeting, said after the discussion, "It's important that the American people understand that this is very much on our radar, and we understand the urgency, and we're committed to getting some progress."

The plan, evidently, is to produce a new legislative proposal, based in part on Manchin's own blueprint, "in a matter of days."

There's an obvious problem that hangs overhead: if the West Virginian will only consider voting-rights protections endorsed by both parties, Warnock's efforts are doomed. That said, Manchin participated in yesterday's meeting, and sounded encouraged after the discussion.

If the conservative Democrat intended to derail the effort -- again -- he gave no indication of that yesterday. On the contrary, Manchin agreed that a new bill will likely be released in the coming days.

And what happens when Senate Republicans make clear that they'll never support such an effort? For now, that's a difficult question to answer with confidence, but for voting-rights advocates, there are some hints of momentum.

Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), for example, is a centrist Dem who's expressed opposition to overhauling the Senate's filibuster rules. This past weekend, however, the Virginian announced that he's so concerned about GOP voter-suppression measures and their impact on democracy that he's prepared to support "a small carve out on filibuster for voting rights."

It was against this backdrop that former Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.), another centrist who maintains close ties with his colleagues, wrote a USA Today op-ed touting a "Manchin Plus" voting-rights bill, which would incorporate the West Virginian's blueprint from June, and add some related provisions that are necessary to address pending state-level restrictions.

Jones added:

Our country would benefit enormously from seeing bipartisan support for national standards like those in a Manchin Plus bill. But the stakes are too high to let partisanship doom this effort. I am a strong proponent of bipartisanship, but I am a stronger proponent of democracy. Congress must be the backstop for the attacks on democracy and the right to vote. If Republicans remain uniformly opposed to policies that strengthen our democracy, Democratic senators, including my friend Joe Manchin, must do what is necessary to enact these critical protections: Institute a filibuster exception for voting-rights legislation before the August recess, so a Manchin Plus package can become federal law. Our most cherished rights as Americans may depend upon it.

The odds of success still aren't great, and I'd caution against anyone getting their hopes up. But there's clearly a growing conversation in Democratic circles, and those participating in the discussion are saying encouraging things about protecting Americans' right to vote.