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Residents, representatives rally and relay for voting rights

MORGANTOWN — Supporters of Senator Joe Manchin’s voting rights reform Freedom to Vote Act rallied in front of the Zackquill Morgan statue on Spruce Street Wednesday afternoon. About 40 people were in attendance, including several state delegates, university activists and community members. 

Morgantown was just one of several stops across West Virginia as part of the Freedom to Vote Relay that started in Charleston, aiming to end in Charles Town Wednesday evening.

However, an hour after the relay left downtown Morgantown, a procedural vote on the Senate floor blocked the Freedom to Vote Act from debate, effectively ending its legislative journey.

“The right to vote is fundamental to our Democracy. Today’s vote was disappointing, but I am committed to finding a bipartisan path forward to restore peoples’ faith in our Democracy and protect that right for every American,” Sen. Manchin said via email.

“Almost everybody here … has the right to vote. It’s the freedom to vote that’s important, unimpeded, unhindered, and this bill that they put together, there is absolutely nothing partisan about it,” said Tucker County Democratic chair Michael McClintock. Over the summer Sen. Manchin opposed another election reform bill, the For the People Act, in part due to its partisan nature. 

Topics of discussion at the rally ranged from same-day registration to absentee ballots and the re-enfranchisement of felons. Many who attended spoke about the broad need for protection of voting rights against increasing erosion across the United States. 

“All these efforts across our nation to limit people’s right to vote, well, why would we do that? Don’t we want every single citizen to be able to exercise their vote as a citizen, their rights?” Delegate Barbara Evans Fleischauer asked of the crowd. Voter suppression as documented in states like Georgia last fall, was a regular topic of comment.

“It doesn’t stop with the boundaries and the barriers of West Virginia. We need this in Georgia. We need this in Louisiana. We need this in Texas,” Delegate Danielle Walker said of the need for federal action on voting. “Our vote is our voice and our voice is our vote.”

“It’ll standardize it so that it’s less confusing for voters who want to vote for the first time or want to figure out simple things like changing your address, which is really important for college students,” said Elliot Dotson of the West Virginia college Democrats.

Delegates John Doyle and Evan Hansen both discussed the bill’s enactment of nonpartisan, independent redistricting committees, something Delegate Doyle attempted to implement in West Virginia this year. Many of the delegates present for the rally left soon after making their statements to make it to Charleston for a vote on West Virginia’s redistricting.

The relay continues today with a hand-off to a contingency of Maryland volunteers at Harper’s Ferry. They will cycle to Washington D.C. by Saturday for a Freedom to Vote “Rally at the Finish Line” in support of several pieces of voting rights legislation.

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