Coalition Of West Virginians Unite To Pressure Manchin On Voting Rights

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A coalition of West Virginia-based activism organizations recently united for an event where they pushed for Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) to drop his portion of the blockade against getting certain voting rights protections passed in the Senate. Manchin has expressed support for the substance of these proposed protections — contained in the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the Freedom to Vote Act — but he has refused to support changing the Senate’s filibuster rules in order to actually get these proposals passed. Those rules require that at least 60 Senators agree before moving forward with bills including these voting rights initiatives, and the current party breakdown means that Republicans can therefore block progress.

Manchin recently said, referencing the proposals to alter the filibuster rules to allow for simple majorities in the Senate to take further action, that “[allowing] one party to exert complete control in the Senate with only a simple majority will only pour fuel onto the fire of political whiplash and dysfunction that is tearing this nation apart” — but it’s not “dysfunction” that’s responsible for concerns about voter suppression. Rather, the actions of Republican officials across a slew of states are at issue, but Manchin won’t take the steps necessary to substantially confront them.

Groups involved in the recent West Virginia push included Race Matters West Virginia, the Charleston chapter of the NAACP, West Virginia Faith Table, and others. The organizations participated in a virtual voting rights rally, as they billed it, sharing their urgent push for Senate action. Anessa Sherrod, a Lewisburg resident who is involved with Race Matters, pointedly commented as follows:

‘Throughout our country’s history, Americans have protested, marched and even sacrificed their lives to be able to cast their ballots and fight for more people to have their freedom to vote honored… It is unfortunate and disgraceful that partisan politicians have attacked our freedom to vote. Senators need to stand on the right side of history… In the words of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience but where he stands in times of challenge and controversy.’

Loretta Young, who also works with Race Matters, asked: “In the past, our country has had to use the court system to protect the voting rights for people of color and other underserved populations, and why should that be? I am as American as you or anyone on this panel.” Meanwhile, Larry Baxter, who’s a former president of the Greenbrier County NAACP, added the following during the event:

‘I find it too ironic that all those politicians that stand and give praise to Dr. King, and all those who followed him in his attempt to give Negros the right to vote, talk about [the] determination, greatness, and courage of this man, yet they do everything in their power to tear away rights he fought so hard to gain for his people.’

Ahead of the Senate’s planned final (for now) consideration of these voting rights initiatives this week, Democratic leaders planned to present a proposal for members of the minority wishing to block progress to have to consistently talk in order to keep the bills from moving forward. Once they stopped talking, the process would continue with a final vote. Manchin and his fellow so-called moderate Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) appeared to remain opposed to even that change, however. The current party breakdown means that all Democrats would have to agree on these changes to make them happen.