July 25, 2008, Washington, DC – Two Democratic lawmakers on Friday asked the Department of Veterans Affairs to rescind a policy banning nonpartisan voter registration drives in its facilities.
In May, VA Secretary James Peake issued a directive saying voter registration drives are not permitted because they are disruptive. The directive also said they are not allowed because of the Hatch Act, a law that restricts political activities by government employees.
The VA does help patients and nursing home residents who request assistance to register and to vote, VA spokeswoman Alison Aikele said in a statement.
“Designating a VA hospital as a voter registration site would allow the general public to use it for that purpose and would be disruptive to the quality of care we provide our veterans,” Aikele said.
Reps. Bob Brady, D-Pa., who chairs the Committee on House Administration, and Bob Filner, D-Calif., who chairs the House Veterans Affairs Committee, said in a letter to Peake that voter registration drives are one of the most effective tools in promoting veterans’ right to vote.
The agency “should recognize that promoting civic engagement should not be viewed as a ‘disruption in their operations’ but rather an instrumental component of providing medical and social support services to our veterans,” they wrote in the letter, which was sent Friday.
The lawmakers said the VA is misinterpreting the Hatch Act.
Voting advocacy and veterans groups have also encouraged Peake to change the policy.