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Letter to James Peake, Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Re: Ensure Veterans Have Access to Voter Registration

Letter

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

Senators Feinstein and Kerry Urge Veterans Affairs Secretary to Ensure Veterans Have Access to Voter Registration

- Letter presses Secretary Peake to support voter registration efforts in VA facilities -

U.S. senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and John Kerry (D-Mass.) are urging Veterans Affairs Secretary James B. Peake to ensure that all veterans in VA facilities are able to participate in voter registration efforts.

Many veterans live at VA facilities and some, especially those who are disabled, find it difficult to travel off-campus for services, including voter registration. However, the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled that voter registration groups are not allowed to register veterans on the grounds of VA facilities.

In light of the court decision, the senators urged Secretary Peake to find ways to ensure that all veterans have access to voter registration materials.

"Certainly we all agree it is an insult to those who have fought to spread democracy and freedom overseas to be denied the right to participate in their own democracy here at home," the senators wrote in a letter to Secretary Peake. "We understand that the Court of Appeals seemed to indicate that the VA's role in assisting veterans was purely medical. The VA has a long and proud history of providing a myriad of services to veterans - helping them lead successful and productive lives. Providing them with the opportunity to become more actively involved in our democracy seems an appropriate role for the VA."

Senator Feinstein has suggested that the Department of Veterans' Affairs become a "voter registration agency" within the definition of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 and provide voter registration materials. The Act requires states to offer voter registration opportunities at all offices that provide public assistance, services to the disabled and at all motor vehicle offices.

Following is the text of the letter Senators Feinstein and Kerry sent to the Honorable James B. Peake, U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs:

March 6, 2008

The Honorable James B. Peake
Secretary of Veterans Affairs
810 Vermont Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20420

Dear Secretary Peake:

We write today to once again highlight our concerns about voter registration in VA facilities. Nearly one year ago, your predecessor, Secretary Nicholson, was questioned about the lack of access to nonpartisan voter registration services for our nation's veterans. A response to this inquiry was never received.

Despite this lack of response, we now understand that the VA has engaged in litigation against voter registration efforts by third party groups in VA facilities. In light of the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals' decision that voter registration groups are not allowed to register veterans, we strongly urge you to focus on what the VA can do to ensure all veterans have access to registration.

Certainly we all agree it is an insult to those who have fought to spread democracy and freedom overseas to be denied the right to participate in their own democracy here at home. Senator Feinstein suggested last year that the VA become a "voter registration agency" within the definition of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993. If each facility took a few simple steps to provide voter registration materials, the VA could do its part to guarantee access to voter registration materials for out veterans.

Furthermore, we understand that the Court of Appeals seemed to indicate that the VA's role in assisting veterans was purely medical. However, the VA has a long and proud history of providing a myriad of services to veterans - helping them lead successful and productive lives. Providing them with the opportunity to become more actively involved in our democracy seems an appropriate role for the VA. The argument that providing access to voter registration at facilities would distract from the medical goals is as unfortunate as it is counterproductive.

It's as John Rowan, President of Vietnam Veterans of America, wrote in a recent letter to us:

"Veterans know the price of freedom; they've paid for it with their service, with the sacrifices they and their families have made. While only one-quarter, at most, of the veteran population utilizes VA facilities for their health care, designating VA medical centers - as well as community-based outpatient clinics and even regional offices - as voter registration agencies should help more veterans have the opportunity to fulfill their civic responsibility which they have sacrificed so much to preserve for all of us, and vote."

Randy L. Pleva, Sr., President of Paralyzed Veterans of America - an organization with a membership that uses VA facilities across the nation - agreed by stating:

"Voting is the cornerstone of democracy and the members of Paralyzed Veterans of America and all veterans have served in the defense and promotion of self determination throughout the world. As veterans we believe that voting is not only our right but also our responsibility. To this end the Department of Veterans Affairs should serve as an example ensuring that every veteran that passes through its doors is afforded the opportunity to register and vote. It is through the exercise of our franchise that we ensure the perpetuation of our democracy and serve as an inspiration to others throughout the world."

The statements of these leaders serve to underscore the importance of righting this wrong.

For these reasons, we once again request that your office identify the policies in place to support voter registration efforts for veterans who use VA facilities. We also request that the VA designate VA facilities to serve as "voter registration agencies" under the definition of the National Voter Registration Act. Social service agencies across the country engage in this effort, and it is time that the Department of Veterans Affairs does the same. We look forward to receiving your response as well as an update on your efforts on voter registration by March 18, 2008. Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Sincerely,

Dianne Feinstein
U.S. Senator

John Kerry
U. S. Senator


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