Cross-posted to Project Vote's blog, Voting Matters.
By Nathan Henderson-James
Last week the Department of Veterans Affairs, bowing to months of pressure from voting rights groups and elected officials, revised its rules concerning voter registration drives to allow such activities if certain conditions were met.
As reported by Steve Rosenfeld at Alternet, the announcement allows groups onto some VA properties to assist veterans in registering to vote.
“The Department will welcome state and local election officials and non-partisan groups to its hospitals and outpatient clinics to assist VA officials in registering voters," the VA said in a Sept. 8 news release. "Such assistance, however, must be coordinated by those facilities in order to avoid disruptions in patient care.”
Questions remain, however, about the ability of the VA to implement this rule change in time to help veterans register in time for the November elections. Again, here's Rosenfeld.
But voting rights advocates said the new VA policy, while moving in the right direction, was announced so near to the close of voter registration for this November — which in half the states is four weeks away — that it may have little impact this fall. During the past four months, when many of 2008's voter registration drives occurred, the VA has banned voter registration efforts by non-profit groups and local or state election officials.
According to Ian Urbina writing in the New York Times, over "100,000 people reside for a month or longer at V.A. facilities nationally, a number that has grown as soldiers return wounded from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan." He also quotes Sen. Feinstein,
“Given the sacrifices that the men and women who have fought in our armed services have made, providing easy access to voter registration services is the very least we can do,” said Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, who introduced legislation in July to reverse the V.A. ban. Ms. Feinstein added that she would soon hold hearings on the issue.
Last Friday five advocacy groups sent a letter to Sen. Feinstein in support of her proposed legislation.
Nathan Henderson-James is the Director of Project Vote's Strategic Writing and Research Department (SWORD).