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.
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