First, Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York should take Manchin at his word that he genuinely wants to pass bipartisan voting reforms, and ask him to convene his vaunted negotiating group of 20 Senate centrists to work on them. Some parts of HR 1 have broad support than others, including minimum early-voting standards and ballot security measures that are worth passing.
Second, Democrats should expand a second election reform measure, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which Manchin supports. The bill would update the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which required states with a history of racially discriminatory laws to seek Justice Department approval for new election rules. The Supreme Court effectively gutted the law in 2013.
One problem with the Lewis Act is that it would apply only to new rules that states propose; it would not apply to the many voting restrictions that Republican-controlled state legislatures are passing now — 22 new laws this year, with more to come.
Third, and perhaps most urgent, Congress needs to make it harder for anti-democratic politicians to overturn the results of the next presidential election. That means rewriting the 1877 Electoral Count Act, a once-forgotten but justly maligned statute that President Donald Trump tried to use last year to block the certification of Joe Biden’s electoral vote.
The law allows legislatures to overrule their own voters in the event of a “failed election,” without defining what a failed election might be. Last year, Trump appealed to legislators in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Georgia and Arizona — states Biden won — to award their electoral votes to him instead. None of the legislatures complied, but there’s no guarantee that future candidates won’t try the same gambit.
The 1877 law also allows Congress to contest and potentially discard individual states’ electoral votes through an odd, undemocratic process. That’s what eight GOP senators and 139 Republican House members were doing when a pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6. Their effort to block Biden’s election also failed, but the law remains on the books for future insurgents to use.
There’s no guarantee, of course, that any of those reforms will attract enough Republican support in the Senate to overcome a filibuster. But with democracy at risk, all 100 senators should be required to vote on them — and explain their decisions to the people.