Paul Sullivan, executive director of the 14,000-member nonprofit Veterans for Common Sense, supports Feinstein in passing a new law to help veterans vote, rather than leaving it to policy decisions. “VA can easily reverse course, again, and issue another policy banning voting assistance,” he said, or could “easily fail to implement their new policy.”
September 16, 2008 – Last week’s promise by the Department of Veterans Affairs to allow voter registration drives in its facilities has not stopped key lawmakers from pushing VA to do more.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who heads the Senate committee responsible for election law and is the chief sponsor of a bill requiring veterans’ officials to do more, said she does not have confidence that a VA policy change seven weeks before the November general elections will be very effective.
With just three weeks left in most states to register to vote in November, “serious questions still remain” about how quickly VA might open the doors to voter drives, Feinstein said.
“Credibility of VA on this issue is very low right now,” she said.
Paul Hutter, VA general counsel, told Feinstein’s Senate Rules and Administration Committee Monday that VA is being “proactive” in working with state and local election officials and with nonpartisan groups to allow voter registration efforts as long as they do not interfere with patient care at VA hospitals, clinics and nursing homes.
However, Hutter said VA still believes that some limits are needed.
“VA facilities are not the equivalent of public sidewalks or the courthouse steps,” he said, warning that voter activities that disrupted VA services or invade the privacy of veterans getting care would not be supported.
Feinstein, chief sponsor of S 3308, which would require VA to support voting assistance by law, said a VA announcement last week – that election officials and some nonprofit groups might be allowed into veterans’ facilities if they can agree with facility officials on access – was not good enough.
Similar legislation has passed the House Administration Committee, which also oversees election laws.
Hutter said one concern about the proposed legislation is that it would allow people with no affiliation with veterans or veterans programs to come into VA facilities to register to vote and get voter information.
He said voter drives aimed at a wider population “would be highly disruptive” and could discourage some veterans from treatments such as psychiatric services. And the proposed legislation could be read as requiring the VA to accommodate any nonpartisan group that wanted access, which could be difficult to do without causing disruption, he said.
Feinstein said the intent of the legislation was not to serve the general public, and that she was willing to make changes.
“We will clear that up,” she said.
However, she did not see disruption as a major problem because setting up a voter registration drive could be as simple as putting a table in the lobby of a hospital or clinic.
Paul Sullivan, executive director of the 14,000-member nonprofit Veterans for Common Sense, supports Feinstein in passing a new law to help veterans vote, rather than leaving it to policy decisions.
“VA can easily reverse course, again, and issue another policy banning voting assistance,” he said, or could “easily fail to implement their new policy.”