Washington—Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) today introduced the Veteran Voting Support Act, a bill to improve access to voter registration services for U.S. military veterans. Cosponsors of the legislation include Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). Text of the bill is available here.
“It is a cornerstone of our democracy that each eligible citizen can register to vote and cast their ballot,” said Senator Feinstein. “I believe we have a special obligation to ensure that service members have every opportunity to have their voices heard, and the least we can do is ease the process of registering to vote. With an election right around the corner, this bill is particularly important, and unlike a VA directive, it would not expire.”
The Veteran Voting Support Act would:
- Require the VA to provide voter registration forms to veterans when they enroll in the VA health care system;
- Ensure that veterans who live in VA facilities have access to absentee ballots;
- Allow nonpartisan voter registration groups and election officials to provide voter information and registration services to veterans in a time, place, and manner that makes sense for the facilities; and
- Give the attorney general authority to enforce these provisions.
Several years ago, Senator Feinstein learned a Department of Veterans Affairs facility in California was barring voter registration groups from communicating with veterans in the facility. Similar reports emerged in Connecticut and other states.
Senator Feinstein and then-Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.) first introduced a bill to address this problem in 2008, with the support of then-Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton.
While that legislation was pending in the Senate, the Department of Veterans Affairs issued a directive improving voter assistance for veterans at VA facilities.
At the end of September 2013, that directive expired, even though Census data indicates that millions of veterans are not registered to vote, and the percentage of veterans who do vote fell between 2008 and 2012.