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Alabama coach Nick Saban urges Joe Manchin to support Democrats' radical election overhaul bill

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University of Alabama football coach Nick Saban and NBA Hall of Famer Jerry West have signed an open letter to U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin urging the moderate West Virginia Democrat to support a federal overhaul of U.S. elections to "secure our democracy."

In the letter, Saban, West, and three other prominent West Virginia sports figures — former West Virginia University athletic director and NFL Houston Oilers player Oliver Luck, former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue, and former Buffalo Bills linebacker Darryl Talley — called on 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 are asking Manchin to support the Freedom to Vote Act, a bill introduced by Democrats that would set federal standards for U.S. elections. In addition to expanding early voting and mail-in voting, the bill would undermine Republican supported voter ID laws, limit the ability of states to remove inactive or dead voters from voter rolls, make Election Day a federal holiday, and more.

Democrats lack the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster by Republicans, who are uniformly opposed to a federal overhaul of elections. And Manchin, along with Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and at least three other Democrats are opposed to carving out a filibuster exception or getting rid of the filibuster altogether to pass the bill, preventing the 50-50 Democratic majority from taking action on election reforms.

But Saban and the other sports icons insist that Manchin change his position, expressing their support for the Democrats' bill:

Elections open to all Americans: Our democracy is at its best when all Americans are encouraged to participate. We support measures to provide voters with a range of opportunities to obtain and cast a lawful ballot, including robust in-person, early, and absentee voting options. We support the use of election security, equipment and record-keeping measures that are reliable and evidence-based, and clearly support the integrity of election processes.

Impartial conduct and score-keeping. Election administration and vote certification must be nonpartisan, professional and transparent. State legislators and other officials cannot apply or change rules, standards or procedures, prospectively or retroactively, in a manner that may nullify Federal election results by excluding voters or overruling voter choices.

The letter claims "these principles are now under intentional and unprecedented challenge" from state laws supported by Republicans that have strengthened voter ID laws and tightened rules around absentee and mail-in ballots after the COVID-19 pandemic. Saban and the others accuse Republicans of attempting to "secure partisan advantage by eliminating reliable practices with proven safeguards and substituting practices ripe for manipulation."

It's a rare display of political partisanship from the Alabama coach.

Although Saban, a native of Fairmont, West Virginia, is a longtime friend and supporter of Manchin, he insisted to reporters in 2020 that he had no desire to be involved with politics or endorse candidates.

"I've never endorsed a candidate, nor will I ever endorse a candidate or get involved in politics in any way, shape or form. I don't think that's my place," he said at the time.

Contrary to that statement, he endorsed Manchin for re-election in 2018, saying he never knew a better friend or person than the senator.

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