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.
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
- H.R. 6625
- S. 3308
- Hearing: Voter Registration for Wounded Warriors: S. 3308, the "Veterans Voter Support Act" (Senate Rules Committee, 9/15/08)
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