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Senators Feinstein and Kerry Express Concerns About Apparent Reversal in Department of Veterans’ Affairs Policy in Providing Access to Voter Registration for Veterans

VA Directive appears to include blanket prohibition on voter registration drives

Washington, DC –U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and John Kerry (D-Mass.)
today expressed concern about a new directive by the Veterans Health Administration that appears to reverse an earlier proposal to provide greater voter registration access to veterans in the department’s care.

  • On April 25, the Department of Veterans Affairs issued a directive that required all VA facilities develop comprehensive voter registration plans to assist veterans in voting. It also required the VA to publicly post voter registration information for veteran facility inpatients and required that VA facilities provide absentee voter applications if patients cannot leave the facility.
  • Earlier this week, the Department of Veterans Affairs withdrew that directive, and issued a new directive that introduces a broad prohibition against organizations conducting voter registration drives at VA facilities.
  • In response, the senators wrote a letter to Veterans Affairs Secretary James B. Peake, saying the new policy could discourage involvement from nonpartisan groups such as veterans service organizations and the League of Women Voters in helping veterans to vote.

          “We believe that the earlier directive better addressed the need for a consistent voter registration policy for our veterans,” the senators wrote to Secretary Peake. “While the changes made in the new directive seem small, the impact is large. It appears to us that the Department took one step forward for our veterans and the right to vote by directing that assistance be provided with voter registration and with securing absentee ballots, but then took a large step back by prohibiting voter registration drives.”

The Senators requested clarification about why the new directive was issued, who retracted the initial policy directive and whether Secretary Peake sees the change as a complete bar on external, nonpartisan voter registration drives.


The VA’s April 25 directive came 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 in March 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.

Related Resources:

VA Directive Marked May 7, 2008

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