The Trentonian (Trenton, NJ)

Does Manchin believe what he says about voting rights?


Dear Sen. Joe Manchin:

It has only been 56 years.

As Americans, we are pleased to call ourselves one of the world’s oldest democracie­s. We are actually one of the world’s newest. Democracy, after all, is government shaped by the will of the people. But until 1920, roughly half the people were not allowed to vote, disqualifi­ed by dint of gender. And until 1965 — 56 years ago — roughly 10% were restricted by color of skin.

So American democracy is not even as old as you are. Its newness — its recentness — is invoked here to help you understand the trepidatio­n with which some of us regard the dozens of bills being pondered and passed in Republican-led statehouse­s across the country with the intention and certain effect of keeping us from voting.

As part of a demographi­c whose access to that right has never been impeded, perhaps you find it difficult to appreciate the profound distress and sense of historical déjà vu some of us are now processing.

To say nothing of our equally profound disappoint­ment in those who could defend us choosing instead to let us down, failing to meet the moment with the urgency it requires. Sadly, that’s a category into which you fall.

“The right to vote is fundamenta­l to our American democracy,” you wrote in a Sunday op-ed in the Charleston Gazette-Mail of West Virginia. You then spent a thousand words explaining why you will not protect this right by supporting the For The People Act, which would end partisan gerrymande­ring, punish those who try to intimidate voters and streamline voter registrati­on, among other urgently needed reforms. Your argument boils down to: I won’t vote for the bill because it doesn’t have bipartisan support. You lodge no other complaint against it.

But your reasoning is nonsensica­l. Would you decline to support a For The Chickens Act solely because the foxes refused to sign on?

Yes, you did signal a willingnes­s to vote for a companion bill, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancemen­t Act, which would repair the Voting Rights Act that was

gutted by the Supreme Court in 2013. But even here, your support is conditione­d upon Republican buy-in; you have flatly ruled out ending — or even carving out a onetime exemption from — the filibuster, a parliament­ary procedure that allows a minority party to block legislatio­n the majority


There has been much speculatio­n on why you’re doing this. Some say you enjoy the attention. Some say you’re not very smart. But the scariest idea is that you are sincere, that you truly believe this radical (and unrequited) commitment to bipartisan­ship is what’s best. It’s entirely

possible, however, to be sincere and yet, sincerely wrong.

And you are. In effect, you ask those of us who face the loss of our voting rights to trust you as you wager those rights on Republican integrity and good faith. But as recent years have proven ad nauseam, those are qualities

your colleagues have in vanishingl­y short supply.

Moreover, if America is what America says, then my ballot is not yours to gamble with. Bipartisan­ship is very important, yes, but the right to vote is sacred — “fundamenta­l,” to use your word. When you prioritize the former above

the latter, you echo all the other times this country has made us the fulcrum of its moral compromise­s, deemed something else to be of more importance than our rights as human beings.

Sir, the error you are making is seismic and potentiall­y tragic. Reconsider, please.\

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