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August 11, 2008

VA Director Prohibits Voter Registration In VA Hospitals

On May 5th, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, James B. Peake issued a directive banning nonpartisan voter registration drives at federally financed nursing homes, rehabilitation centers and shelters for homeless veterans. This is insanity!

According to the NY Times article, because of this ban, disabled and confined veterans who have made enormous, life changing sacrifices to defend our freedoms, not the least of which is the right to vote, are being cut off from even being able to register.

On June 30th Connecticut Secretary Of State Susan Bysiewicz visited the VA Hospital in West Haven to distribute information on the state’s new voting machines and to register veterans to vote. She was not even allowed inside the hospital.

On the sidewalk outside, Secretary Bysiewicz met Martin O’Nieal, a 92-year-old veteran who lost a leg while fighting the Nazis in WWII. O'Nieal has been a resident of the hospital since 2007 and he told her that he wanted to vote last year but there was no information at the hospital about how to register and the nurses could not answer his questions about how or where to cast a ballot. What's wrong with this picture?

The two reasons Peake issued this ban are astoundingly idiotic. First, he claims that voter registration drives are disruptive to the care of its patients. You've got to be kidding me!

Second, he claims that VA employees cannot help patients register to vote because the Hatch Act forbids federal workers from engaging in partisan political activities. This interpretation of the Hatch Act is completely out of left field. There is nothing partisan about registering people to vote as long as you don't promote a particular candidate or political position.

This insidious, immoral, unpatriotic and extraordinarily hypocritical action taken by Secretary Peake is, quite simply, disgusting!

What is the government afraid of? Other than maybe Barack Obama might be elected. I've personally talked with quite a few veterans while waiting to be seen for appointments at my local VA and I unexpectedly found that the overwhelming majority said that they intended to vote for Obama. Maybe also because the latest polls of active duty men and women show that a majority are not opposed to gays serving openly in the military which indicates a significant change in attitude among the people actually defending our country.

According to the article, bills that would require the department to repeal the ban have been filed in both houses of Congress. They need to be signed into law no later than Oct. 1, so that veterans in V.A. care don’t miss their states’ deadlines to register to vote in the fall elections. That this is even necessary is mind boggling!

As a veteran myself, I am going to shoot off a quick email to both my Senator and my Congressman about this.

To read the full article, go to: NY Times

I just got off the phone with Council for the Senate Rules Committe, Adam Ambrogi. He told me that Senate Bill S3308, introduced by Senators Diane Feinstein and John Kerry, should move to the Senate for a vote when they return in September.

He also told me that House Bill HR6625, introduced by Congressman Robert Brady, was passed unanimously just before breaking for recess.

Mr. Ambrogi gave me his direct line and asked that if I hear any other information about voter registration in VA facilities or these bills to contact him. So, if anyone out there has or comes across anymore information please leave a message at the "Comments" link below or contact me via email.

UPDATE - 8/16/08...
According to a posting at Advocate.com today, troops serving abroad have given nearly six times as much money to Obama's presidential campaign as they have to McCain's. Apparently what the vets at the VA center here told me (see story above) seems to be the sentiment pretty much service-wide.

To read the full story go to: Advocate.com