West Virginia youth look to Senator Joe Manchin in hopes of passing federal voting rights legislation

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“Our people are fleeing,” Cipollone said, adding that many of her friends and even her sister have left West Virginia – a state that she says has felt the impact of the opioid epidemic and a struggling coal mining industry.

“[My friends] cite a lack of opportunity and a lack of feeling that their opinion, voice or vote matters, ”she said.

Yet, in the midst of the national voting rights conversation, the state has become a priority because of Senator Joe Manchin, whose vote is critical to Democrats’ ability to pass voting rights legislation in Congress. It matters to young people there, Cipollone says, because increasing voter accessibility would help address the various issues plaguing the state.

West Virginia is one of three U.S. states with declining populations, according to U.S. Census data. The state’s population is aging and more people have died than people born in West Virginia between 2010 and 2020. At the same time, West Virginia has experienced a higher rate of out-of-state migration than in the past. decades and due to its loss of population, the state loses a seat in the House in 2022.
In recent weeks, Manchin has been part of a group of Senate Democrats – including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Senator Raphael Warnock of Georgia – who work at the drafting of a revised compromise on the Voting Rights Bill to continue work on the issue after Senate Republicans blocked Democrats from voting and reforming elections, the so-called People’s Law , to move forward.

As part of Un-PAC West Virginia, the local branch of a national voting rights group and political action committee led by youth, Cipollone and other Un-PAC organizers sought to raise local awareness of the need for federal reform of voting rights. Since May, young organizers have been knocking on doors across the state, in an effort to get West Virginia people of all ages to contact Manchin to voice their concern.

With the franchise legislation stalled in Congress, Cipollone and other young West Virginia organizers have stepped up their advocacy efforts, encouraging as many West Virginia people as possible to contact their Senators to lobby for the law. For the People.

Manchin said he would not rule out supporting an amended version of the bill and proposed updated legislation that declares election day a public holiday, extends early voting to at least 15 consecutive days, and bans it. gerrymandering supporter. But in return for his crucial support, Manchin wants to demand ID – or some other form of identification such as a utility bill – to vote.
The organizers of the A-PAC from the Charleston and Huntington offices after a day of canvassing in Hurricane, West Virginia.

Organizers told CNN they were receptive to the changes Manchin proposed.

“I think there are good things in what’s called the Manchin Compromise,” said David Crawley, 27, West Virginia state director for the A-PAC.

“If there is to be a voter identification system, allow it to be accessible,” Crawley said, adding that all citizens should be able to easily obtain identification.

” I do not want [this bill] Do Not Pass. Work on it, improve it. But at the end of the day, get through it, ”he said.

Crawley spent days door-to-door in southern West Virginia, an area he described as “left behind” and “dying” as a result of a mining industry once booming coal.

Although the For the People Act was drafted by Democratic members of Congress, Crawley – who struck up a conversation with Trump supporters – says parts of the legislation have bipartisan support.

According to Crawley, the majority of people he spoke to are in favor of electoral reforms such as increasing early voting options, adding that West Virginia voters from all political backgrounds are also receptive to withdrawing from the election. money from politics and limit the influence of lobbyists. .

“People have been receptive to the idea of ​​a national standard for elections, as most people realize that the system does not ensure that everyone has equal access to elections,” he said. declared. “These are not just people who voted for Democrats, but people who voted for Trump.”

For his part, Chris Deluca, a 20-year-old Republican, said he was organizing with the Un-PAC because facilitating the vote is “necessary” so that more people can participate in the electoral process.

“You see a lot of people complaining about what’s going on in the country but they don’t vote,” said Deluca, a student at the University of West Virginia. “I think it should be easier because there are so many people who don’t want to.”

According to Deluca, his organization’s goal is to get both Manchin and Republican Senator Shelley Moore Capito to support federal voting rights legislation.

Deluca said he also agreed with Manchin’s suggestions for the bill, but only if all Americans are able to access identification free of charge and offered to grant every U.S. citizen a free state-issued ID.

“I think as long as we can guarantee that all Americans have access to some type of ID for free, we should definitely require ID,” Deluca said.

Beyond Un-Pac West Virginia, organizers of Young West Virginia Forward, a youth-run racial justice organization, have worked for months to send a message to Manchin and Capito that the increase in accessibility of voters is something that will benefit the lives of West Virginia youth. .

Takeiya Smith, the founder of Young West Virginia Forward, 27, has identified the employment infrastructure, support for young entrepreneurs and the criminal justice system as areas of her community that need to be improved.

“There are young West Virginia people who want to stay here to fight for a better place to live, but we can’t do that without the opportunity to vote for the changes we want to see. Our right to vote is the way whose energy we need to have a positive impact on our communities, ”she said.

“We have spoken to over 1,000 people asking them to call Senator Manchin or email Senator Manchin. We are counting on Manchin and Capito to do the right thing,” Smith said. “No matter where you are on the political spectrum, everyone should have the fair and free right to participate in our democracy.”

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