Guest Blogged by John Gideon, VotersUnite
The federal Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) has decided, this year, that veterans under their care do not need to vote, so they have ruled that any voter registration drives or other voting related issues are in violation of the Hatch Act. Of course the Hatch Act is a law that keeps federal employees from participating in partisan politics and veterans in veterans' hospitals and nursing homes are not federal employees but the DVA has chosen to ignore that fact.
The Secretary of State of Connecticut, Susan Bysiewicz, decided "Not In My State," so after asking permission to visit veterans' facilities in the state in order to register veterans and show them how to use the state's voting machines and being denied permission she, and the state AG, decided to defy the feds.
UPDATE - 7/1/08: The New Haven Register reports today that Secretary Bysiewicz registered a handful of veterans, including one 92-year old WWII veteran, while standing outside the front door of the New Haven Veterans Center.
"There was nobody here to do this last year," said Martin Onieal, the WWII vet of the Italian and North African campaigns.
Suddenly, when faced with a protest and possible law suit, the director of the VA Connecticut Healthcare System decided that he would reinterpret the rules from the Department of Veterans Affairs and blame any problems on a new employee. He told the Secretary that as long as she signs up as a volunteer and certifies that the registration drive is non-partisan, all is well. Of course this is after two unanswered letters and a phone call on Friday denying her access.
Will other states now take up the gauntlet for our veterans? Will congress step up and put a stop to the misuse of the Hatch Act and disenfranchisement of our veterans? We deserve much better than this.
The Secretary of State's original press release from yesterday follows below...
'The practice and policy of banning voter registration drives at veterans facilities is an slap in the face to the people that have served, put their lives on the line and scarified the most for our fundamental freedoms. It is simply wrong." said Bysiewicz. "It defies logic that this administration would even consider disenfranchising tens of thousands of veterans who have served our country and now require care. At a minimum we should make it easier for our veterans to register to vote."
Earlier this month in preparation for the November 4, 2008 Presidential Election, which promises to bring voters to the polls in record numbers, Secretary Bysiewicz requested permission to visit both inpatient and outpatient facilities to educate veterans, especially veterans with disabilities, about Connecticut's new voting machines. Last week, however, West Haven Veterans Hospital denied Secretary Bysiewicz's request.
Secretary Bysiewicz has written to Mr. Roger Johnson, Director of Veterans Affairs Connecticut Healthcare System. "I view this denial of access both as a civil rights violation of the deepest measure and as a moral slap in the faces of those veterans who are supposed to be served by the VA Connecticut Healthcare System; veterans attempting to put their lives back together after leaving those lives behind to serve our country," wrote Bysiewicz. "Since your organization has refused to give us a reason for this denial, and since I can think of no legitimate reason to deny veterans access to information about their voting rights and how to use new voting machines. Certainly, it does not reflect what is in the best interests of the veterans you are supposed to serve."
Secretary Bysiewicz is calling on the Federal Elections Assistance Commission to launch an investigation to determine whether veterans living in these facilities are being unfairly denied access to information on the new voting machines.
On behalf of veterans, I would like to thank the Secretary for taking a stand against the disenfranchising actions by the Federal government.