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Senators Feinstein and Kerry Commend Apparent Change in Department of Veterans’ Affairs Policy in Providing Access to Voter Registration for Veterans

VA Directive requires that VA facilities create voter registration plans and provide information to assist veterans in voting

Washington, DC – U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and John Kerry (D-Mass.) today called a directive handed down by the Veterans Health Administration a major step forward in providing voter registration access to veterans in the department’s care.

“The VA Directive seems to be a dramatic turnaround in granting veterans the access to voter registration that they rightfully deserve,” Senator Feinstein said. “This directive would require that all VA facilities develop comprehensive voter registration plans to assist veterans in voting. Given the sacrifices that these men and women have made, providing easy access to voter registration services is the very least we can do.”

"I am hopeful that this apparent reversal will be one large step forward in the fight to protect the right of America's veterans to vote,” Senator Kerry said. “We will continue to monitor this situation motivated by one and only one principle: those who fight for democracy overseas shouldn't have to fight for democracy here at home."

The directive stops short of designating VA facilities as voter registration agencies. However, the directive requires that VA facilities create comprehensive voter registration plans to assist veterans in registering to vote. It also requires the VA to publicly post voter registration information for veteran facility inpatients and requires that the VA facilities provide absentee voter applications if patients cannot leave the facility.

The directive comes in the wake of a letter exchange between Senators Feinstein and Kerry and Veterans Affairs Secretary James B. Peake over whether VA facilities should be designated as “voter registration agencies” within the definition of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993. The Act requires states to offer voter registration opportunities at all offices that provide public assistance, services to the disabled and at all motor vehicle offices.

Many veterans live at VA facilities and some, especially those who are disabled, find it difficult to travel off-campus for services including voter registration. However, a federal appeals court recently ruled that voter registration groups do not have the right to register veterans on the grounds of VA facilities.

In light of the court decision, Senators Feinstein and Kerry wrote a letter last month to Secretary Peake to find ways to ensure that all veterans have access to voter registration materials and identify the policies they have in place to support voter registration.

Secretary Peake recently wrote back to Senators Feinstein and Kerry, denying their request to designate VA facilities as voter registration agencies.

“The VA has a long and proud history of providing services to veterans -- helping them to lead successful and productive lives. Providing them with the opportunity to become more involved in our democracy is an appropriate role for the VA,” Senator Feinstein said. “It is my hope to the VA’s implementation of this directive will be in time for the 2008 election.” 

Related Resources:

Letters from Senators Feinstein and Kerry
Response from Secretary James Peake
VA Directive