August 8, 2008 – There is legislation pending in the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives that would allow nonpartisan groups and election officials to conduct voter registration drives in VA hospitals, nursing homes and homeless shelters.
We find it disappointing it will require an act of Congress to allow that. But if the Department of Veterans Affairs continues its refusal to revoke a directive banning such activities, we urge lawmakers to act quickly in adopting the legislation. There are less than 90 days before the election, and those veterans under the care of the VA have earned the right to vote.
The VA issued the directive in May, claiming voter registration drives were partisan and disruptive to patient care. Voter registration drives are held annually at the state-run Rocky Hill Veterans home – and there has never been any suggestion of partisan politics or disruption of patient care there.
VA officials here in Connecticut have conceded a bit to Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz’s call for a reversal of the policy, allowing her office to conduct voter registration and voting machine demonstrations in VA facilities in Connecticut. However, the VA still refuses to allow groups such as the League of Women Voters, Disabled American Veterans and other nonpartisan groups to do so. The national policy has not changed.
VA Secretary James Peake has refused numerous requests to reconsider the position, and is insisting only “certified volunteers” can be permitted to conduct voter registration drives. To be certified, a person must to sign a pledge they will not encourage any patient to vote, or offer assistance in obtaining voting information.
That simply makes no sense.
Surely the federal Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) could arrange convenient times for nonpartisan groups or elected officials to meet with patients in a suitable location within the facility that would not disrupt patient care.
Congress has far more pressing issues to deal with than adopting a new law that forces government agencies to allow citizens, who want to, the opportunity to exercise their civic duties and constitutional rights.
And especially this particular group of citizens – those who have served to ensure those rights and freedoms are preserved.