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News Jul 2, 2008 - 10:07 AM

Secretary of Veterans Affairs asked to grant elections officials access to veterans facilities

By Secretary of the State's Office

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In response to a federal directive prohibiting voter registration drives among veterans living at federally funded nursing homes, rehabilitation centers and shelters for homeless veterans, Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz and Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, have written to Secretary of Veterans Affairs James B. Peake to request that Secretary Bysiewicz and elections officials be granted access to the facilities for the purposes of distributing voter registration materials and instructing residents on the use of newly-implemented voting machines.

“The Secretary of the State was recently blocked from access by local Veterans Health Administration (VHA) officials, who have subsequently stated that the request remains under review,” wrote Blumenthal and Bysiewicz. “We seek your timely assurance within the next 10 days that the Secretary’s request and other similar requests by state and local election officials will be granted. Also, as this episode demonstrates, the VHA must clarify its policy to ensure that election officials across the country be permitted to assist our nation’s heroes in exercising the very democratic rights that they have sacrificed so much to preserve.”

“The Directive should not be construed to bar nonpartisan voter registration and education activities conducted by state and local election officials in furtherance of their official duties, which pose no significant risk of partisanship, disruption or violation of the Hatch Act,” Blumenthal and Bysiewicz continued. “To prohibit such access would be detrimental to both veterans and the state and local election officials who seek to assist them, while serving no valid institutional objectives of the VHA.”

“We respectfully request that you instruct officials with responsibility for the administration of VHA facilities located in Connecticut that they immediately grant the Secretary’s request so that she may provide assistance to veterans without further delay.”

Yesterday, Secretary Bysiewicz was joined by Attorney General Blumenthal, veterans and veteran’s advocates at the Veterans Affairs Hospital in West Haven to blast the policy, register veterans to vote, and distribute information on the state’s new voting machines at the facility. Sec. Bysiewicz was able to register 12 veterans to vote outside the facility Monday afternoon.

“Time is of the essence, we have just 124 days until the most important national election in a generation,” added Secretary Bysiewicz, “Our veterans have fought so hard for our country and sacrificed a great deal to preserve our democracy. They deserve a fair chance to be educated about our new voting technology and to get help registering to vote, so their voices can also be heard in November.”

Attorney General Richard Blumenthal added, “The VA must act clearly and promptly to cut the confusion that it has created. There is grave danger that veterans may be discouraged or deterred from rights that they fought and sacrificed to defend. As a Fourth of July recognition of veterans’ service, the VA should do the right thing.”

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