Congress Considers Reversing VA Ban

Over the summer, we urged Congress to enact legislation that would reverse a Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) policy that banned voter registration activities in VA facilities....

September 19, 2008

Over the summer, we urged Congress to enact legislation that would reverse a Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) policy that banned voter registration activities in VA facilities.  The unjustifiable policy erected unnecessary hurdles that made it difficult for veterans to register and vote—so it was no surprise that veterans groups and voting rights organizations actively fought the policy.

The VA stubbornly refused to budge, though, leading lawmakers in Congress to proposed a statutory fix to the VA's bureaucratic blunder: the Veterans Voting Support Act.  Along with many others, we called for prompt passage of the law in the House and Senate. 

The VA responded to the public outcry over its registration ban by modifying its policy slightly—while claiming a total about-face.  It issued a new directive that purported to open VA facilities to voter registration activities, but while the directive was a step in the right direction, it was far from a total fix.  The directive didn't actually require VA facilities to register voters, and it didn't actually open VA facilities to registration drives by non-partisan, outside groups—it only mandated that the VA "review" requests from outside groups to conduct registration drives. 

Given the toothless directive, it was no surprise that the VA quickly rejected one of the first applications for permission to register veterans.

In light of the VA's intransigence, we renewed our calls for passage of the Veterans Voting Support Act in the House and Senate.  And, fortunately, it now appears that a positive resolution may be in sight:  on Wednesday night, the House passed the Act (H.R. 6625) on a voice vote.

We commended the House for its attention to this important legislation, and called upon the Senate to follow suit—quickly.  And there are at least some indications of reason to be optimistic:  Howard Gantman, Staff Director of the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration, reportedly said that negotiations on the Senate bill (S. 3308) are "moving along" and that an agreement on final language should be reached "in the next day or so."

If the Senate follows the lead of the House and the President signs this important legislation, the VA will finally start helping veterans—who, after all, fought to defend the right to vote—to register and vote themselves.