Voting Rights Groups Encourage Voter Registration at VA Facilities
Washington, DC — Today, leading voting rights groups called on James B. Peake, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), to reverse a recent decision that prohibits VA offices and facilities from offering voter registration and potentially registering tens of thousands of veterans.
American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD), Common Cause, Demos and the League of Women Voters urged Secretary Peake to approve future state requests to allow voter registration at VA agencies and offices. This would be a reversal of his ruling on a May 1, 2008, request by California Secretary of State Debra Bowen that he agree to the designation of VA sites in her state as voter registration agencies, as permitted under the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA). Connecticut Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz made a similar request on July 2, 2008.
"As a former secretary of state, I know how important it is for our veterans to be able to participate in our democracy," said Miles Rapoport, president of Demos and former Secretary of State of Connecticut. "I urge James Peake to stop blocking voter registration by our vets."
The national voting rights groups — in conjunction with their grassroots state-based chapters around the country — also sent letters today to chief election officials in each state, calling on them to request that the VA agree to the designation of its offices and facilities in their states as voter registration agencies.
"Designation of VA facilities as voter registration agencies is the single most important action that can be taken to help veterans participate in our nation's elections," said Bob Edgar, president of Common Cause. "We will be working with state election officials to make this a reality."
In addition to the refusal to accept designation as a voter registration agency, the Department of Veterans Affairs has recently taken other steps that restrict voter registration opportunities for Americas veterans. On May 5, 2008, the Veterans Health Administration issued Directive 2008-025, prohibiting all voter registration drives at its medical facilities and raising legal barriers to activities by nonpartisan voter registration groups like the League of Women Voters.
"Secretary Peake's actions are baffling," according to Mary G. Wilson, president of the League of Women Voters of the United States. "Why is he standing in the way of non-partisan voter registration?" she asked. "Obviously, Secretary Peake is getting bad advice on how to help veterans."
U.S. Senators Feinstein, Kerry and Akaka, and 10 Secretaries of State have separately called on VA Secretary Peake to rescind the new Directive and help veterans register to vote.
"For veterans with disabilities, voter registration opportunities through the VA are essential," said Jim Dickson, vice-president of American Association of Persons with Disabilities. "Veterans with disabilities have a harder time registering to vote through state agencies, so we call on Secretary Peake to help."
State election officials meet next week at a conference of the National Association of Secretaries of State, which will be held from July 25-28 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Many of these election officials are expected to discuss voter registration opportunities for veterans.
To read the full text of the letter sent to chief election officials in states, or for more information on voter registration activities related to the Department of Veterans Affairs and the NVRA, please visit www.demos.org, www.commoncause.org, www.aapd.com or www.lwv.org.
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