News & Politics

Connecticut Fights Veterans Affairs on Voter Registration

VA policy banning registration drives defied by secretary of state, attorney general.
The Department of Veteran Affairs' ban on voter registration drives was defied by Connecticut's Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz and Attorney General Richard Blumenthal this week, when they went to a VA medical center and registered voters.

"There was nobody here to do this last year," Martin Onieal, 92, a World War II veteran and a resident of the VA center since 2007, told the New Haven Register.

Bysiewicz conducted an impromptu registration session outside the VA facility after her office failed to get written permission to go into the VA centers and was denied access in a subsequent phone call, the paper said.

During most of the Bush Administration, the VA has not allowed voter registration groups into its facilities to help former soldier to register and to vote. This spring, after pressure from several U.S. senators and public criticism, the VA announced a new policy saying it would help vets register and allow registration drives. However, several weeks later, it reversed the decision on the registration drives, saying it would interfere with the agency's medical mission and encourage "partisan" activities.

"I believe that there is a concerted effort going on to suppress voter registration," Bysiewicz, told the New Haven paper. She also cited a ban issued for Indian reservations, because they are on federal property.

"To ban voter registration drives is a slap in the face to veterans like Mr. Onieal, who have served and sacrificed greatly for our country and for the basic freedoms that we have here," said Bysiewicz.

Curiously, the paper reported that VA officials in Connecticut were not averse to the Secretary of State's actions, even though that would conflict with the federal agency's new policy.

In a prepared statement issued on her website, Bysiewicz expanded on her criticism and called for the federal Election Assistance Commission to investigate.

"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" she said. "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."
Steven Rosenfeld is a senior fellow at and co-author of What Happened in Ohio: A Documentary Record of Theft and Fraud in the 2004 Election, with Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman (The New Press, 2006).
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