Until now, the Department of Veterans Affairs unjustly banned voter registration drives for veterans living at government-run homeless shelters, rehabilitation centers and nursing homes nationwide.
Officials had argued that such drives would be disruptive and violate the rule prohibiting political activity by federal workers. The result was that tens of thousands of veterans each year never registered to vote and never enjoyed full citizenship. That all changed when the VA reversed itself after federal legislators, state election officials and voting rights groups pressured the agency for several months to allow registrations.
The move will give more than 100,000 veterans, many returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, an easier way to register and exercise their constitutional right to vote. Veteran advocates say the lifting of the ban comes at an opportune time, during a presidential election year when most veterans hold strong opinions about the war, their treatment and benefits, and choices for the next commander in chief.
To ensure a fair and smooth registration process at its sites, the VA will work with local and state election officials and nonpartisan organizations. Many people involved in the process worry that the new policy will not be enacted in time for the November election.
"Given the sacrifices that the men and women who have fought in our armed forces have made, providing easy access to voter registration services is the very least we can do," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who introduced the legislation.
The policy needs to be in place for this election to help veterans exercise their constitutional right to vote. It is the least that should be done to honor their sacrifices.