Friday, July 18, 2008

VA Disenfranchising Veteran Votes

Top Senator And 10 States Attack VA for Banning Voter Registration Drives

Officials overseeing the VA and state elections say the VA's policy is unnecessary and insulting to veterans who sacrificed for our country.

Steven Rosenfeld, AlterNet:

The Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman, Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-HI), has called on the Department of Veterans Affairs to reverse its new policy barring voting rights groups, "partisan or otherwise," from holding voter registration drives on campuses where injured veterans are living or receiving medical care.

"Veterans receiving care at VA facilities risked life and limb to defend the freedoms we enjoy, including the right to vote," Akaka said in a July 10 letter to Veterans Affairs Secretary James B. Peake. "Current VA policy makes it unnecessarily difficult for some veterans to participate in the electoral process." Akaka said the VA's most recent explanation for barring registration drives -- that they would violate the Hatch Act, which prohibits government employees from engaging in political activities on official time or federal property -- made no sense.

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"There is no reason why the Department of Veterans Affairs should not proactively assist veterans in exercising their right to vote. To do otherwise is an insult to the sacrifices these men and women have made for our country," the joint letter said.

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So far, 10 secretaries of state have joined the effort, including officials from Ohio, Minnesota, Vermont, Montana, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Maine and Kansas.

Despite the new political pressure, it is not clear if the VA will change its policy long enough before the close of registration in early fall for the 2008 presidential election.

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"We recognize and respect the need for VA to guard against any activities that might interfere with carrying out the Department's mission to furnish quality health care services to veterans," the senators wrote. "However, we are confident that voter registration activity can be permitted that would not impinge on fulfilling that responsibility."

[Steven Rosenfeld is a senior fellow at and co-author of "What Happened in Ohio: A Documentary Record of Theft and Fraud in the 2004 Election" with Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman (The New Press, 2006).]

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