H.R. 1's failure may now spawn more plausible options

Another avenue is a version of the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, which would again subject Southern states to obtain federal clearance before making changes to their voting system — a requirement that a 2013 Supreme Court decision gutted.

Restoring the preclearance condition is of considerable symbolic significance, but it offers far less to reformers than the Manchin compromise. It does nothing to address the laws that Republicans have enacted this year. It would do little to protect against election subversion. It does not check Republican efforts outside the South. And it relies on the federal court system, which has a more limited view of the Voting Rights Act than reformers would like.

But unlike H.R. 1, restoring federal preclearance does have the support of Mr. Manchin and Lisa Murkowski, a Republican from Alaska. Mr. Manchin also seemed willing to embrace a variety of largely unspecified changes that might make preclearance somewhat more amenable to the Republicans, including an objective test to determine whether jurisdictions should be subjected to or relieved from preclearance and limits on the power of the attorney general. It remains doubtful that any changes would attract significant Republican support, but it also remains untested.