Guest Essays, Letters to the Editor, Opinion

Guest essay: Sen. Manchin must protect seniors’ voting rights. Reconsider the filibuster

by Max Richtman

Seniors who voted safely and securely by mail in the 2020 election may find that it isn’t so easy next time, thanks to restrictive laws enacted by the state legislatures across the country. The majority in the U.S. Congress rightly perceives those laws as a threat to citizens’ sacred voting rights. They are offering federal legislation, the For the People Act, to supersede onerous state laws and protect the constitutional rights of seniors and other vulnerable groups. But the bill cannot pass the U.S. Senate as long as Republicans can block it using the filibuster.

A narrow change in the filibuster rules would allow this landmark voting rights legislation to move forward on a simple majority vote. Sen. Joe Manchin has not yet supported changes to the rule, without which Congress may not be able to protect our voting rights. That’s why nearly 40 organizations, political advocates and influencers have joined us in asking him to reconsider his position – and protect the rights of the people of West Virginia and other states to cast ballots by mail.

More than any other age group, senior citizens benefit from the ease and comfort of vote-by-mail. Mail voting allows older West Virginians who are immobile, sick or don’t want to risk being infected by the COVID Delta variant to exercise their constitutional rights safely. Some 40% of voters age 50-64 and 55% of those over age 65 voted by mail in the 2020 elections.

Those who want to restrict that right falsely claim that voting by mail is rife with fraud. Nothing could be further from the truth. Studies have shown mail-in voting to be consistently free of fraud. An MIT study found that only 0.00006% of 250 million mail-in votes nationwide were fraudulent. Additionally, scholars at Stanford University analyzing more than 20 years’ worth of data in California, Utah and Washington found vote-by-mail did not advantage one political party over another.

Nevertheless, Republicans in many state legislatures have bought into the “Big Lie” that the 2020 presidential election results were illegitimate. Nearly 20 states have enacted laws this year that will make it harder for Americans to vote. The West Virginia State Senate approved a bill which would move the deadline for requesting an absentee ballot from six days before Election Day to 11 days. While the Judiciary Committee of the state House of Delegates chose not to take up the bill during the recently concluded session, Chairman Moore Capito left open the possibility of considering the legislation during the next session.

The sole purpose of new restrictive laws is to suppress votes that the majority party in these state legislatures don’t like. That is undemocratic, un-American and unacceptable. Voters are supposed to be able to freely choose their elected representatives — not the other way around.

The federal For the People Act would protect all Americans from new state voter suppression laws by setting national mail-in voting standards and guaranteeing no-excuse mail-in voting. It would require states to give every voter the option to vote by mail. These guarantees would ensure that seniors — including older West Virginians — will be able to participate in future elections.

Sen. Manchin has always been responsive to the needs of West Virginia seniors. He has made earnest efforts to achieve bipartisan solutions to policy changes, which we commend. We urge him to support modifications to the filibuster rule to allow the Senate to approve the For the People Act on a simple majority vote. That is the only democratic, American and acceptable choice.

Max Richtman is president and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare.