Update: September 19, 11:18 a.m.The House passed its companion legislation, H.R.6625. Howard Gantman, Staff Director of the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration, said that negotiations on the Senate bill are “moving along” and he expects an agreement on the final language will be reached “in the next day or so.” In addition to the VA, veterans groups, and voting rights organizations, both Democratic and Republican leadership are involved in the discussions with the hope that the final bill will receive expedited approval before Congress recesses.
When a prospective enlistee shows up at a US Armed Forces Recruitment Center, the recruiter asks whether the individual would like to register to vote. But for the veteran returning home – even one now residing at a VA facility so that their previous voter registration is no longer valid – the Department of Veterans Affairs is under no such obligation.
Many voting rights groups and advocates for veterans are trying to rectify this injustice by providing voter registration drives at VA facilities. Initially, the VA stood in the way – banning nonpartisan groups, election officials, and registration drives at its facilities. In July, Connecticut Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz was literally turned away at the door of a VA facility where she wanted to show veterans how to use new voting equipment.
In response, Senators Dianne Feinstein and John Kerry introduced the Veteran Voting Support Act(S. 3308) that would require the VA to allow nonpartisan voter registration drives and comply with any state’s request that the VA itself offer voter registration at its facilities under the National Voter Registration Act(NVRA). Barack Obama is a cosponsor of the bill, John McCain isn’t. It seems Senator McCainnot Support This is once again out of touch – even with the veterans to whom he claims devotion. The legislation is supported by groups across the nation, including: Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion, Disabled American Veterans, Paralyzed Veterans of America, American Association of Retired Persons, Veterans for Common Sense, American Association of Persons with Disabilities, Brennan Center for Justice, Common Cause, Demos, League of Women Voters, and others. Companion legislation has already passed the House Administration Committee, where members recognized that the least Congress can do for the men and women who put their lives on the line for this nation is go an extra mile to support their right to vote – a basic tenet of our democracy.