VA’s Voter Registration Policy Could Block Thousands of Veterans from Voting in 2008

For Immediate Release

League of Women Voters
Contact: 

Kelly Ceballos
(202)

263-1331,
kceballos@lwv.org

VA’s Voter Registration Policy Could Block Thousands of Veterans from Voting in 2008

Advocates Call for Passage of Feinstein and Kerry’s “Veterans Voting Support Act”

NEW YORK - In response to

the Department of Veterans Affairs' decision to modify its policy
barring voter registration activity in VA facilities, today the American

Association of People with Disabilities, the Brennan Center for Justice,

Common Cause, Demos and the League of Women Voters submitted

a letter to U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein calling the
VA's directive an important but still inadequate step towards
protecting the voting rights of veterans.

The two-page letter declares
that the VA's policy will still greatly hinder veterans attempting

to register and vote in the 2008 election and that swift passage of the
Veterans Voting Support Act (S. 3308) is necessary ensure that the
nation's 25 million veterans are able to vote this
November.

"The Department of
Veterans Affairs' latest directive, which modifies its misguided
policy barring voter registration activities in VA facilities, still
does not solve the fundamental problem," said Wendy Weiser,
Director of Voting Rights and Elections at the
Brennan Center for
Justice.

"Only the prompt passage
of the Veterans Voting Support Act will make sure that the millions of
men and women served by the VA have a fair opportunity to register and
vote this fall," stated Mary G. Wilson, president of the League of

Women Voters.

The letter lists four reasons
why the VA's recent directive will not be sufficient to protect
the voting rights of veterans served by the VA:

  • First, the directive
    imposes no affirmative obligation on VA facilities and agencies to
    register veterans. The directive requires only that each VA facility
    must adopt "a written published policy on voter assistance"
    and that information on registering and voting must be posted throughout

    VA facilities; it does not obligate VA facilities to actively register
    voters.  S. 3308 would remedy this deficiency

    by authorizing VA facilities to be designated as voter registration
    agencies under the National Voter Registration Act, or "motor
    voter" law.

  • Second, the VA's
    directive makes voter registration services available only to patients
    residing in VA facilities, and not to veterans availing themselves of VA

    services on an out-patient basis or otherwise obtaining services from
    the VA.  All veterans served by VA facilities

    should be permitted to avail themselves of voter registration services
    on the same basis as in-patients.

  • Third, under the
    VA's directive it is unclear whether and to what extent outside
    groups - which are responsible for millions of voter registrations

    every election - will actually be permitted to conduct voter
    registration activities.  The directive
    provides that "[a]ny request by an outside organization to
    facilitate voter registration on VA property is [to be] forwarded to
    local Regional Counsel for review."  And, although the directive calls on facility directors to
    establish "[c]riteria for evaluating the time, place, and manner
    of voter registration and voter assistance activities," the
    absence of any substantive guidelines creates a risk that voter
    registration by state and local election officials and non-partisan
    voter registration groups may be severely undermined by the requirement
    that registration efforts must be "coordinated with the
    facility."

  • Finally, the VA's
    directive will not guarantee prompt services so veterans are able to
    register and vote this November.  The
    directive imposes no proactive duties on the VA; it only suggests the VA

    will not unduly interfere with others' efforts to register
    veterans.  And because the directive
    evidently vests each facility director with discretion (a) to determine
    whether groups attempting to register veterans are appropriately
    "non-partisan"; and (b) to dictate the time, place and
    manner of voter registration activities, the directive does not go
    sufficiently far to ensure that veterans will receive any meaningful
    assistance in this election cycle.

In addition to passing S.

3308, the authors of the letter emphasized the need for immediate
hearings so that VA officials might respond to the concerns
above.  "We look forward to the Senate
conducting immediate hearings on the VA's new policy, so that
representatives of the VA may give on-the-record testimony regarding the

concerns we have raised," said Lisa Danetz, Senior Counsel at
Demos.

"We thank Senators
Feinstein and Kerry for their great leadership and commitment to
protecting veterans' voting rights, and we credit them in
significant part for the VA's retraction of a policy that makes it

unnecessarily difficult for veterans to vote.  However, the VA's modified policy will not provide
adequate voter registration services at VA facilities that thousands of
men and women rely on," according to Jim Dickson, public affairs
director for the American Association of Persons with
Disabilities.

A

full copy of the letter is available here.

 

###

The League of Women Voters, a nonpartisan political organization, encourages informed and active participation in government, works to increase understanding of major public policy issues, and influences public policy through education and advocacy. Membership in the League is open to men and women of all ages.

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