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Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Explained: What is the For the People Act, and why is it a priority for Democrats?

The bill in question is called the “For the People Act” and was passed by the House of Representatives on March 3 this year. On March 17, a Senate version of this bill was introduced and an earlier version was passed by the House in March 2019.

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: June 8, 2021 9:01:14 am
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., a crucial 50th vote for Democrats on President Joe Biden's proposals, walks with reporters as senators go to the chamber for votes ahead of the approaching Memorial Day recess, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, May 27, 2021. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Senator Joe Manchin, the Democrat who represents the state of West Virginia, Sunday said he will not vote for a partisan legislation that wants to expand voting rights. This bill aims to combat a series of bills introduced in Republican controlled states recently that aim to make it harder for people to cast their votes.

With Manchin not backing the bill, the legislation that is a priority for Democrats has little chances of passing.

What is this bill?

The bill in question is called the “For the People Act” and was passed by the House of Representatives on March 3 this year. On March 17, a Senate version of this bill was introduced and an earlier version was passed by the House in March 2019.

The Brennan Center for Justice notes that this “historic legislation” will make it “easier to vote in federal elections, end congressional gerrymandering, overhaul federal campaign finance laws, increase safeguards against foreign interference and strengthen government ethics rules”.

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What is the significance of this bill for Democrats?

The bill aims to counter a series of others that have been passed recently by Republican legislatures and are meant to restrict voting rights. In May, one such bill titled SB 7 backed by Republican lawmakers in Texas was passed in the House of Representatives.

Broadly, this bill aims to limit how local officials can expand voting rights, set new rules for voting by mail and set new rules for removing people from voter rolls. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, this year, various states have already enacted more than 20 laws that will make it harder for Americans to vote.

Since the US general elections last year, mail-in voting has been a contentious issue in the country, especially after Republican candidate Donald Trump repeatedly called this process into question and alleged that mail-in voting allows for greater chances of fraud. Critics of the SB 7 bill see the move as an attempt by Republicans to make it harder for voters, especially minorities to cast their vote.

In a statement made by US president Joe Biden in late May, he called the Texas legislation “un-American” and said, “It’s part of an assault on democracy that we’ve seen far too often this year—and often disproportionately targeting Black and Brown Americans.”

So why is Manchin opposing it?

In an article Manchin wrote for the Charleston Gazette-Mail he said that while the right to vote is fundamental for “American democracy”, protecting it should not be about “party or politics”. Manchin added, “Whether it is state laws that seek to needlessly restrict voting or politicians who ignore the need to secure our elections, partisan policymaking won’t instill confidence in our democracy — it will destroy it.”

“Do we really want to live in an America where one party can dictate and demand everything and anything it wants, whenever it wants? I have always said, “If I can’t go home and explain it, I can’t vote for it.” And I cannot explain strictly partisan election reform or blowing up the Senate rules to expedite one party’s agenda,” Manchin wrote.

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