Several West Virginia sports leaders are urging Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., to support federal voting rights legislation, as he remains steadfast in his refusal to change Senate rules that would make passing such legislation possible.

In a letter sent to Manchin last week, five sports leaders – most with ties to West Virginia – said they “strongly support urgently needed legislation that will protect both the rights of voters and the integrity of outcomes in all Federal elections.” The Freedom to Vote Act, one of two bills that Democrats are trying to advance to protect voting rights, “effectively addressed these goals,” they added.

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Alabama head coach Nick Saban speaks during a news conference after quarterback Bryce Young won the Heisman Trophy, Saturday, Dec. 11, 2021, in New York. AP Photo/John Minchillo

The letter was signed by former Los Angeles Laker and NBA executive Jerry West; Nick Saban, the head football coach at the University of Alabama; former Houston Oiler and XFL commissioner Oliver Luck; former NFL linebacker Darryl Talley; and former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue.

“We come from some of our Nation’s most popular sports leagues, conferences and teams,” they wrote, noting that some of them were past rivals in sports or business. “But we are all certain that democracy is best when voting is open to everyone on a level playing field; the referees are neutral; and at the end of the game the final score is respected and accepted.”

The sports leaders warned that those tenets “are now under intentional and unprecedented challenge,” alluding to efforts by former president Donald Trump and his supporters, including Republican-led state legislatures, to interfere with the results of the 2020 presidential election.

“We are united now in urging Congress to exercise its Constitutional responsibility to enact laws that set national standards for the conduct of Federal elections and for decisions that determine election outcomes,” they wrote. “These guarantee that all Americans have an equal voice in our democracy and that Federal elections are conducted with integrity so that the votes of all eligible voters determine the election outcomes.”

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The Freedom to Vote Act would create national rules for voting by mail, early voting and other parts of the electoral process. Another bill that Democrats are hoping to pass, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, would restore the federal government’s authority to review certain state voting laws to prevent discrimination.

The Senate is poised to begin debate on the bills Tuesday, pressing ahead despite near-unified Republican opposition and obstacles within Democratic ranks to changing Senate rules.

Civil rights groups and many Democrats have intensified their pressure over the past month to change the Senate’s filibuster rules so that the bills can be passed without meeting a 60-vote threshold. In a speech last week in Atlanta, President Joe Biden voiced his support for getting rid of the filibuster to pass voting rights bills, a monumental shift from his stance throughout his decades in Washington.

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FILE – Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., walks to a vote in the Senate Chamber, Dec. 15, 2021, in Washington. AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File

What had changed, Biden said, was that he believed the United States was at risk of losing its democracy.

“The United States Senate, designed to be the world’s greatest deliberative body, has been rendered a shell of its former self,” Biden said then. “I believe that the threat to our democracy is so grave that we must find a way to pass these voting rights bills.”

However, Manchin has said repeatedly that he does not support changing the Senate’s filibuster rules without Republican support. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., also has said she is not willing to overhaul the filibuster.

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“We need some good rules changes, and we can do that together,” Manchin said last week. “But you change the rules with two-thirds of the people that are present so it’s Democrats, Republicans changing the rules to make the place work better. Getting rid of the filibuster does not make it work better.”

Nevertheless, Senate Democrats have vowed to continue their efforts to pass the bills this week, saying it was important for senators to at least record their votes for history. Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., on Sunday called it an “existential issue.”

“We all have to be recorded at this moment in time about where are we in protecting the right to vote,” Kaine said on CBS News’s “Face the Nation.”

House Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C., acknowledged Sunday that the voting rights bills were “on life support,” but he insisted that the larger battle was far from over.

“John Lewis and others did not give up after the ’64 Civil Rights Act. That’s why he got the ’65 Voting Rights Act,” Clyburn said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “So, I want to tell everybody, we’re not giving up. We’re going to fight. And we plan to win, because the people of goodwill are going to break their silence and help us win this battle.”


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