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Military & Veteran Voting

Published: April 1, 2009

Milit­ary Voting

Members of the United States armed forces and their famil­ies face unique chal­lenges to parti­cip­at­ing in our elec­tions. If their votes are to count and their voices are to be heard, these citizens must over­come hurdles not faced by most Amer­ic­ans.

The Bren­nan Center strongly believes that they deserve better. The nation must make it a prior­ity to remove barri­ers to polit­ical parti­cip­a­tion for those who dedic­ate them­selves to defend­ing our demo­cracy. In support of this goal, we have encour­aged states and Congress to adopt policies that ease the burdens on milit­ary voters, includ­ing the land­mark Milit­ary and Over­seas Voters Empower­ment (MOVE) Act, which was signed into law by Pres­id­ent Obama in late 2009, and which will signi­fic­antly ease burdens on milit­ary voters.

Veteran Voting

Work­ing with a range of differ­ent veter­ans and voting rights groups, the Bren­nan Center has taken a lead­ing role in advoc­at­ing legis­la­tion aimed at elim­in­at­ing barri­ers to regis­tra­tion and voting for Amer­ican veter­ans, and ensur­ing that those who have fought to protect the right to vote are able to exer­cise it.

Our work has come in response to a direct­ive issued by the Depart­ment of Veter­ans Affairs (the “VA”) on May 5, 2008, which banned voter regis­tra­tion drives from all VA facil­it­ies. In the after­math of this unfor­tu­nate decision by the VA, we joined numer­ous groups in urging Congress to adopt a legis­lat­ive solu­tion to the VA’s bureau­cratic blun­der: the Veteran Voting Support Act. 

The legis­la­tion would open the VA to regis­tra­tion drives and require the VA to make voter regis­tra­tion services avail­able at VA facil­it­ies in states that request it. It would require the VA to help veter­ans request and cast absentee ballots. And it would open VA facil­it­ies to non-partisan groups and elec­tion offi­cials, so that they could provide veter­ans with inform­a­tion on regis­tra­tion and voting. All these services will go a long way to ensur­ing that veter­ans are able to exer­cise their most funda­mental right as citizens: the right to vote.

In response to wide­spread criti­cism and broad-based calls for Congress to adopt the Veter­ans Voting Support Act, the VA modi­fied its policy slightly, issu­ing a new direct­ive that was a step in the right direc­tion, but not a total fix. The new 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. 

The VA’s partial halt­ing steps forward only heightened the need for Congres­sional action. Thank­fully, the House passed the Act (H.R. 6625) on a voice vote. The Senate has not yet acted on this import­ant legis­la­tion.

Veter­ans Voter Support Act


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