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Allow VA voter drives.

Byline: The Register-Guard

The Department of Veterans Affairs should explain the real reason why it is making it harder for patients in VA hospitals to register to vote.

In May the VA issued a directive prohibiting outside groups from conducting voter registration drives at its hospitals and clinics. The official explanation: The drives would disrupt operations and violate the federal Hatch Act, which bars federal employees from participating in partisan political activities on official time or on government property.

Anyone who has visited a veterans' hospital knows that voter drives - or any organized activity, for that matter - would provide a welcome respite from the daily tedium for patients, especially those facing prolonged stays. If religious groups and veterans' organizations routinely conduct activities without causing disruptions, it's hard to understand why civic-minded, nonpartisan groups such as the League of Women Voters or the Rock the Vote Campaign can't do the same.

As for the Hatch Act, making a room or a hallway table available for volunteers to register patients hardly qualifies as a partisan political activity.

U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., recently wrote a letter to the VA asking it to reconsider its ban. "VA medical centers should serve as a place of civic engagement for some of our most patriotic Americans, not a place where they feel displaced or forgotten," he said.

Curiously, the VA's directive also states the agency's policy is "to assist patients who seek to exercise their right to register and vote" and outlines assistance that employees can offer patients, including help with registering and voting absentee.

Wait a minute: Wasn't the purpose of this directive to prevent disruptions in hospital and clinic operations? Isn't relying on federal VA employees to perform these services more disruptive than allowing qualified outside groups to assist veterans? Doesn't having VA staffers help patients to register and vote run a higher risk of violating the Hatch Act than allowing nonpartisan groups to do the same.

Last month, Connecticut Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz and Attorney General Richard Blumenthal attempted to register voters at a VA hospital and were ordered to stop by VA officials. Now, Bysiewicz and Washington Secretary of State Sam Reed are starting a national bipartisan effort among secretaries of state asking VA Secretary James Peake to allow outside voter registration drives.

Oregon Secretary of State Bill Bradbury should join this effort to make certain the VA gets out of the way and allows veterans to have the assistance they need and deserve to exercise one of this nation's most fundamental rights.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Editorials; Nonpartisan groups barred from helping veterans
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Jul 20, 2008
Previous Article:Five-year road plan better.

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