Can we just cut the shit here for a hot second? If we get rid of partisan gerrymandering, Republicans will never win the House again. They know it, and we know it. Which is why Joe Manchin's latest election reform proposal has gotten support from Stacey Abrams and exactly zero Republicans. Manchin proposes a federal law mandating non-partisan redistricting, which would lock Republicans out of the House until they start passing bills Americans actually like. So, unless we ditch the filibuster, it's never going to happen.

It's just math: Republican turnout in 2020 was massive, and they still ran 4.6 million total House votes behind Democrats — a three percent margin which left Speaker Nancy Pelosi in charge, but with the barest majority. Without Trump on the ballot in 2018, Democratic votes outnumbered Republicans by 8.6 percent. That was a wave year for the Blue Team, but demographics are not on the Red Team's side, even with the boost they get by having one Republican representative for Wyoming's 578,000 people, while California's 53-member House delegation represent 745,000 people each. Brass Tacks: Gen Z does not vote Republican. Which is why the GOP is doing everything it can to make it harder for younger, browner people to vote.

So, yes, let's talk about the pretty good election reform proposal Joe Manchin has put forward as an alternative to the For the People Act, the blockbuster election reform bill supported by the rest of the Democratic caucus. And let's applaud that he appears to be significantly more open to filibuster reform behind closed doors than he is in public. But here on Planet Earth, pigs will fly before 10 Republicans sign on to support this thing. (And before we start reflexively attacking the only Democrat who could win in West Virginia, please note that the senior senator from Arizona, which voted for Biden, isn't doing shit to build consensus, and appears to spend much of her time faffing off to drink margaritas.)

With that said, here's what the second most powerful guy in DC is proposing:


Among the compromise provisions from the For the People Act, Manchin wants to make Election Day a public holiday, mandate at least 15 consecutive days of early voting for federal elections, allow provisional ballots to count for all eligible races regardless of precinct, require states to send absentee ballots to voters who are unable to vote in person, make absentee ballots postage-free, mandate automatic voter registration through the DMV with an opt-out provision, and most importantly ban partisan gerrymandering in favor of districts drawn by "computer models." (Blockchain? DRINK.)

Among the sops to his Republican buddies, Manchin would require voter ID in some form. The devil's in the details here, of course, and the senator gestures vaguely in the direction of "allowable alternatives," such as utility bills. But, as Stacey Abrams told CNN's John Berman, there are ways of doing this so that it doesn't disenfranchise voters.

"No one has ever objected to having to prove who you are to vote. It's been part of our nation's history since the inception of voting," Abrams insisted. "What has been problematic is the type of restrictive ID that we have seen pop up. In South Dakota, where Native Americans were told they had to provide IDs with addresses the state refused to provide. We have states where students are not allowed to use their student IDs, but you can use your gun license. Our point is simply that the restrictions on the forms of ID should meet the needs of the people."

Manchin also supports "maintenance of voter rolls by utilizing information derived from state and federal documents." Again, the devil is in the details here. Would that mean canceling a voter based on a change of address and registration to vote in another state? Or would it be removal after failing to vote in "two cycles," i.e., the primary and general in a single mid-term election? Because both are problematic, but one is definitely worse than the other.

In addition to these issues, some of Manchin's proposals seem destined to run afoul of the First Amendment. How exactly does he plan to "prohibit providing false information about elections to hinder or discourage voting"? It also seems extremely unlikely that this Supreme Court would uphold the disclosure requirements in the Honest Ads Act, DISCLOSE Act, and other campaign finance rules Manchin supports.

And speaking of SCOTUS, there is no way on God's green earth that these guys are going to impose a nationwide pre-clearance requirement on new voting regulations, allowing the federal government to veto state voting changes, as Manchin has suggested. Never, not ever. And a law requiring disclosure of tax returns for presidential and vice presidential candidates and office holders would probably face an uphill climb, too.

But still, Democrats should get behind this plan, if only to demonstrate the utter cravenness of the GOP's position. The Republican Party can hardly claim to support reasonable election reforms when Manchin says, "Fine, you can have voter ID and whatever 'election security' measures you can rationalize with a straight face, just give back fair districts and let people vote early without having to fight about it." That is a deal Republicans will never take, because they cannot win when Americans in fair districts are allowed access to the ballot box.

The modern GOP is a counter-majoritarian party in thrall to a raving demagogue who will not allow them to course-correct to broaden their base. They'd have no choice but to filibuster this proposal, even as it concedes so much ground to them. So Democrats should call their bluff and support Manchin's bill, even though it doesn't go nearly far enough.

Of course we should get rid of felon disenfranchisement! Who doesn't support getting money out of politics? But none of that is going to happen with the Senate as currently constituted. You want to get rid of the filibuster? Protect Maggie Hassan in New Hampshire and elect John Fetterman in Pennsylvania. And FFS, find someone to run against Ron Johnson! But until then, force the GOP to walk the plank and explain to voters why they oppose fair districts.

Take it from Stacey Abrams:

"What Senator Manchin is putting forward are some basic building blocks that we need to ensure that Democracy is accessible no matter your geography. And those provisions that he is setting forth are strong ones that will create a level playing field, will create standards that do not vary from state to state, and I think will ensure that every American has improved access to the right to vote despite the onslaught of state legislation seeking to restrict access to the right to vote."

Ayup. What she said.

[Manchin Proposal]

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Liz Dye

Liz Dye lives in Baltimore with her wonderful husband and a houseful of teenagers. When she isn't being mad about a thing on the internet, she's hiding in plain sight in the carpool line. She's the one wearing yoga pants glaring at her phone.

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