JOE MANCHIN, the Democratic senator from West Virginia, is a paradoxical figure. He has torpedoed many of his party’s most cherished plans, from climate-change legislation to scrapping the Senate filibuster. Yet without that willingness to confound his fellow Democrats, Mr Manchin could not win in a state where Donald Trump took nearly 70% of the vote in November. Democrats owe him their one-vote majority in the Senate, something they are quite fond of.

As a result, Mr Manchin’s proposal for reforming voting laws is worth taking seriously—all the more so now, given that this week the blockbuster elections bill favoured by most of his party, known as HR1, was sidelined thanks to the filibuster Mr Manchin wants to preserve. His compromise has three main parts: ending gerrymandering, making the registration of voters automatic and requiring some form of identification for people who vote in person.

The package is not the wholesale reform of elections that many Democrats favour as an antidote to the chaos unleashed by the losing candidate in last year’s presidential election. But it avoids HR1’s unwise focus on public funding for election campaigns. In the past it would have been hailed as a model of bipartisan wisdom.

Take the gerrymandering first. Most American states hand the power to draw the boundaries of congressional districts to elected politicians. That is an invitation to cheat that the politicians usually find hard to resist. The result is bizarrely misshapen districts which make elections less competitive.

Mr Manchin wants to end the practice, handing the drawing of boundaries to non-partisan commissions, as already happens in seven states. This is hard to disagree with, but Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, has done so—claiming that the plan “takes redistricting away from state legislatures and hands it over to computers”. As if legislatures don’t use computers, too.

Mr Manchin has a similarly reasonable proposal for voter registration. Political parties and elected officials play too great a part in overseeing how lists of eligible voters in American states are maintained. The ideal system would make it easy for voters to register, ensure the lists of who can vote in each state are accurate and put this important administrative work beyond the influence of politicians standing for election.

Mr Manchin proposes a system whereby eligible voters would be automatically registered unless they decide to opt out. Such a system ought to boost participation in elections, something both parties should want and which does not obviously favour one lot over the other.

The final part of Mr Manchin’s offer is the one designed to appeal to the right. For at least two decades, Republicans in state legislatures have said it is vital that voters show some form of identification at polling stations. This requirement has often been gamed for political advantage, too: gun permits are fine, student IDs are not. Since November, when the stolen-election conspiracy theory took hold, this impulse has only increased.

Mr Manchin proposes to give Republican lawmakers most of what they have long been asking for, allowing utility bills to serve as proof of identity. Most Americans of both parties support voter-ID laws. Even so, hardliners on both sides reject Mr Manchin’s idea. On the left some say it is unnecessary to show identification at the polls, because for one person to impersonate another person when voting is very rare. Yet America has a public interest in elections not only being secure but also being seen to be so. Others on the right say that only photo identification should count. This makes sense in a country like France where there is a national ID card. But Republicans, like the Conservative Party in Britain, are opposed to ID cards on ideological grounds—even though they think that a document that stands for one must be shown in polling booths.

On this point, as on others, Mr Manchin’s proposal is the very definition of reasonableness. Given America’s fractured politics, however, that hardly guarantees success. Congressional Republicans have dubbed the plan the “Stacey Abrams” bill, after the politician from Georgia who has backed it. Although they seem likely to reject Mr Manchin’s reform, it deserves their support.

This article appeared in the Leaders section of the print edition under the headline “Radically reasonable”