A Right Vets Fought For

Today's New York Times reports on a row between the Veterans Affairs department, various state officials and voting rights organizations over the VA's decision to bar voter-registration drives from its properties across the country. To justify its decision, the VA cites the Hatch Act and various other rules precluding federal agencies from political activity. The voting rights groups (and state officials like California's Secretary of State) respond that voter registration per se is not political.

But, of course, voter registration is intensely political. Not always in an outright partisan way, but political nonetheless. Political actors care very deeply about voter registration, voter access, districting, and other electoral matters because they shape electoral battlefield. And historically, there has been a partisan political divide over voting rights issues -- Republicans typically stress voting integrity; Democrats typically stress voting access. There may be some of that at work here.

But there are also larger equities in play. America's veterans have earned their right to vote, and we should be particularly sensitive to the practical realities of voting for veterans who are confined to VA facilities. The VA should find an apolitical way to register voters and work with state and local officials to do so. It probably doesn't make sense for the VA to allow its local Republican and Democratic parties to register voters on their property, but there are many groups (like the League of Women Voters) and others who can help. And barring that, given the fundamental importance of the voting right to these veterans who fought for it, I would urge the VA to consider contracting programs or in-house programs to register voters residing at its facilities.

By Phillip Carter |  June 13, 2008; 9:03 AM ET  | Category:  Civil-Military Relations
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This action by the VA seems especially odd since the military has voting assistance programs. Many a Second Lieutenant has had it assigned as an additional duty.

So in Iraq or aboard a ship an officer can come along and provide you with assistance and encouragement in registering to vote, but if you are in a VA hospital you are out of luck.

Posted by: Charlie Romeo | June 13, 2008 5:31 PM

In my own, totally biased and unscientific view, I would posit that VA clients are more likely to vote DEM, and active duty military more likely to vote GOP. I guess I have become so jaded that I see a conscious effort to skew the efforts at enabling voting towards the more supportive population, with an intent on influencing the outcome.

It isn't a pleasant experience to have lost confidence in your elected and appointed leaders.


Posted by: Aviator47 | June 14, 2008 6:26 AM

Even granting Aviator47's supposition that VA clients are more likely to vote Democratic (a supposition I do not share): So what? The point is, they're entitled to vote. If it takes the self-interest of a political party to provide the impetus to overcome the bureaucratic barriers that inhibit voter registration in VA facilities, then so be it.

Posted by: Mark Grimsley | June 14, 2008 7:42 AM

If we were really interested in honoring what veterans have fought for, we'd change Veterans' Day from 11 November to Election Day and celebrate it as enthusiastically as we do the 04 July (which, after all, was merely the equivalent of a declaration of war). That specifically includes time off from work for virtually everyone.

Pipe dream, I know. But it's only one week different, on average, and would result in better spacing of the fall holidays.

Posted by: C.E. Petit | June 14, 2008 11:38 AM

Republicans stress voting integrity?

Oh, please! I know that's their story and they are sticking to it, but do we have to be naive?

Republicans have stressed voting suppression. That's the truth. And, as long as Republicans run the VA, voting is off the table.

There are no atheists in foxholes, and few Republicans in VA hospitals these days.

Posted by: Bruce Wilder | June 14, 2008 12:23 PM

Like many veterans I see a simple question here: Why no voting assistance officer, especially given circumstances which might lend to use of absentee ballot, or simple need to transport to the local polling place? I'd be curious to know what about such activity violates the Hatch Act.

Posted by: WIG19 | June 16, 2008 2:48 PM

I'd be curious as to why the VA has decided to follow the Hatch Act, yet choose to ignore the much newer & stronger Help America Vote Act, which stresses the need for facilitated registrations.

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