Democratic Senators support helping veteran’s vote.

Earlier I had asked how we can claim to support the troops when we ban voter registration drives at VA facilities.

Well apparently Steven Rosenfeld reports on some efforts by Democratic Party Senators who are trying to tear down that wall, that barrier to veteran’s accessing their right to vote.

“Veterans receiving care at VA facilities risked life and limb to defend the freedoms we enjoy, including the right to vote,” Akaka said in a July 10 letter to Veterans Affairs Secretary James B. Peake. “Current VA policy makes it unnecessarily difficult for some veterans to participate in the electoral process.” Akaka said the VA’s most recent explanation for barring registration drives — that they would violate the Hatch Act, which prohibits government employees from engaging in political activities on official time or federal property — made no sense.

“The Office of Special Counsel has issued policy statements that federal employees may assist in non-partisan voter registration drives on federal property and on official time without violating the Hatch Act,” said Akaka, who also chairs a Senate subcommittee with jurisdiction over the Act. “In addition, the Hatch Act does not prohibit outside groups, partisan or otherwise, from registering voters at a VA facility if federal employees do not participate.”

So take that James “anti-democracy” Peake.  But wait, the Democratic Senator’s don’t want to stop with opening up VA facilities to registration groups, but want it to become a standard part of their operations.

Akaka’s letter was also signed by Sens. John Kerry (D-MA) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), who repeatedly have urged the VA to designate itself as a voter registration agency like state motor vehicle departments, where the public is asked by staffers if they would like to register to vote. Under current VA policy, vets have to specifically ask for that assistance before the VA will help former soldiers to register and to vote.

“There is no reason why the Department of Veterans Affairs should not proactively assist veterans in exercising their right to vote. To do otherwise is an insult to the sacrifices these men and women have made for our country,” the joint letter said.

Now you may remember, that federal enforcement of section 7 of the National Voter Registration Act is very lacking, which says that public assistance programs must pro-actively offer to assist with voter registration drives, see my post on this and other voter issues back in December, quote below is via Alternet.

A just-released federal voter registration report reveals the stakes. In late June, the Election Assistance Commission issued a biennial voter registration report to Congress for 2005 and 2006. The report found that 16.6 million new registration applications were received by state motor vehicles agencies while only 527,752 applications came from state public assistance offices — a 50 percent drop from 2003-2004. The report also found 13.0 million voters were purged nationwide and 9.9 million were put on “inactive” status, meaning these people have to provide identification before receiving a 2008 ballot.

The potential number of public assistance recipients who could register runs into the millions. According to the Health Resources and Services Administration’s FY 2008 budget, federally subsidized “health centers” will serve an estimated 16.3 million patients, a population where “91 percent are at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level, 64 percent are from racial/ethnic minority groups and 40 percent are uninsured.” This is the same population who typically seek a variety of federally subsidized public assistance, from food stamps to fuel assistance to welfare.

Another indication of how many poor people could register is Tennessee, whose elections are federally supervised. From 2005-2006, Tennessee registered 120,992 people at public assistance offices — nearly a quarter of the national total, the EAC reported. Tennessee registered more voters than the combined totals of welfare office registrations from California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia and Washington.

While enforcement of existing laws will help those who receive public assistance to get registered, maybe what we need to do is amend the Act to require the VA to offer assistance, which this 92 year old vet would probably like from today’s article.

The senators’ letter comes as several secretaries of state unsuccessfully have been pressuring the VA to allow voter registration drives at its facilities. Just before July 4th, the VA barred Connecticut Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz and Attorney General Richard Blumenthal from entering its West Haven facility to help register voters. Instead, in a widely reported media account, the pair helped a 92-year-old vet to register on the building’s steps. He thanked her, saying no one offered him that chance “last year.”

Republicans really need to stop gaming the system to suppress voters, if they really truly believed in their message, and the purity of democracy, they would not stand in the way of voters being registered.  Sadly these past 8 years show a pattern of suppression by one party, the party that supposedly was going to export democracy to Iraq.

For our vets, those who served our country, they need help not barriers, it is time to tear down this wall to democracy.

-Josh

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