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Press release/statement

Demos Praises New Legislation Designating Veterans Affairs Offices as Voter Registration Sites

Demos President Miles Rapoport Issues Statement

New York, NY — Today, Miles Rapoport, President of the national public policy center Demos, sent a letter of support to Senators Clinton, Feinstein, Leahy, Schumer, Kerry, Wyden, Reid, Murray and Obama for their sponsorship of S. 3308, introduced in the Senate on July 22, 2008. This legislation would require the Secretary of Veterans Affairs (VA) to permit facilities of the Department of Veterans Affairs to be designated as voter registration agencies, in accordance with the National Voter Registration Act. 

With such designation, VA offices and facilities would be required to offer voter registration to individuals served there, as currently practiced at public assistance agencies and at offices that provide services to people with disabilities. It also requires the VA to accommodate voter registration assistance by nonpartisan organizations and elections officials.

In the letter, Rapoport wrote:

"Demos" work shows that the designation of public institutions as voter registration agencies can powerfully expand the franchise, when properly implemented. Over the past several years, we and our partners in the NVRA Implementation Project have worked with state authorities to re-establish and expand voter registration opportunities at public assistance agencies, as required by the NVRA. Registration applications received at those agencies has soared. Tens of thousands of individuals have been newly added to voter rolls in North Carolina, Iowa and elsewhere. We would expect the expansion of voter registration opportunities at VA offices and facilities to affect a similar increase in registration among veterans.

For reasons that are difficult to understand, the Department of Veterans Affairs has in recent months acted to restrict voter registration opportunities for veterans. Secretary Peake declined California Secretary of State Debra Bowen's request that the VA be designated as a voter registration agency in her state. The Veteran Health Administration has promulgated a new directive that unreasonably hinders nonpartisan voter registration efforts at VA facilities by groups like the League of Women Voters.

These recent actions do a disservice to the veterans of our armed services, who have been called upon to risk life and limb in the service of our nation. Surely, every effort should be made to assist them in the exercise of the most fundamental right and responsibility of citizenship. The Department of Veterans Affairs should readily accede to designation as a voter registration agency, as authorized under federal law, and welcome nonpartisan initiatives to register veterans at its facilities. S. 3308 would accomplish both.

Also, on July 27 at the National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS) conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan, a resolution was passed urging Congress to designate the VA as a registration agency under the NVRA and to ensure election officials have access to facilities to provide assistance. In most states, secretaries of state are the chief election officials and have authority for enforcing election law.

Rapoport, who is also a former Secretary of the State of Connecticut, applauded the NASS resolution, and said that "This sends a clear message to Congress that the officials responsible for elections in their states want to make sure that the system works so that veterans, and all voters, get the opportunities to register that they deserve."

"Our veterans deserve no less," he said, "and Congress, and the White House, would serve them well by passing this bill into law quickly."

Demos is also leading a national campaign to encourage voter registration services at VA sites, in partnership with Common Cause, the League of Women Voters and the American Association of People with Disabilities.