VA refuses request to change vote policy
July 17, 2008 – Veterans Secretary James Peake formally responded to a request by three prominent Democratic senators to reverse his policy disallowing voter registration drives on Department of Veterans Affairs property.
Peake said that part of the problem is the Hatch Act, which prohibits partisan political activity by federal employees. The VA only wants to bar partisan groups from registration drives. But Peake said even the determination of which groups are partisan and which are not would amount to a violation of the act.
So the simpliest solution, he said, is to bar all groups, partisan or not. “Moreover, the agency is not in the position to examine the agenda, history and motivations of every organization that may wish to conduct voter registration drives in our facility,” Peake said in a letter to the Democrats.
U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., have asked Peake to end the prohibition.
Akaka said in a statement today that Peake is misreading the law, saying he was “amazed” that the VA is barring voter drives.
“If his contention were true, any federal employee stopping to consider whether a comment or e-mail might be inappropriately partisan wold violate the Hatch Act with that decision-making process itself,” Akaka said. “That interpretation makes no sense. The Hatch Act exists for good reasons, but it clearly allows outside groups to come to VA facilities to help our veterans exercise their right to vote.”
July 18, 2008 – Statement from Veterans for Common Sense in response to VA’s prohibition against voter registration and voting assistance for our wounded, injured, and ill veterans in VA nursing homes and VA hospitals as well as among homeless veterans assisted by VA.
When the time came to protect and defend the voting rights of our veterans during an election year taking place during a war, VA did nothing. Veterans for Common Sense is outraged at VA’s failure to protect the voting rights of our wounded, injured, ill, and homeless veterans.
Voting rights are important for our veterans because many veterans need to re-register before voting again. When a veteran moves from his or her house to a VA nursing home, or when a veteran becomes homeless, then the veteran must usually re-register in order to be eligible to vote in the next election.
The population impacted by VA’s policy decision could be hundreds of thousands, and their equal voting rights are critical. Potentially, there may be thousands of veterans living as in-patients in VA facilities, especially nursing homes, during the November Election. In addition, VA confirms there are hundreds of thousands more veterans who are homeless during the year. VCS believes VA must make reasonable and responsible efforts within the next few months in order to assist our veterans. Our elections must be fair and free, with the greatest opportunity for all to participate – that’s what our veterans have fought for since 1776 by standing between enemy bullets and our beloved Constitution.
VA’s latest lame excuse to ban voter registration and voting assistance for our veterans was that they are too complicated. So VA just threw up their hands and surrendered the voting rights for possibly hundreds of thousands of our veterans. VA’s weak and indefensible position is all the more striking, shocking, and shameful due to the fact some of our veterans now in VA facilities are recovering from battle wounds from Iraq and Afghanistan.
VCS has three blunt questions for VA:
1. What effort did VA make to check with local and state election officials to address the voting needs of our veterans?
2. What effort did VA make to check with widely respected non-profits who might be able to assist VA as well as local and state agencies with voter registration and voting for our veterans?
3. What kind of disgraceful message is VA sending to our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan when our wounded, injured, and ill veterans can’t vote during war?