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110th Congress                                            Rept. 110-851
                        HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
 2d Session                                                      Part 1

======================================================================



 
                       VETERAN VOTING SUPPORT ACT

                                _______
                                

               September 15, 2008.--Ordered to be printed

                                _______
                                

Mr. Brady of Pennsylvania, from the Committee on House Administration, 
                        submitted the following

                              R E P O R T

                             together with

                             MINORITY VIEWS

                        [To accompany H.R. 6625]

      [Including cost estimate of the Congressional Budget Office]

    The Committee on House Administration, to whom was referred 
the bill (H.R. 6625) to require the Secretary of Veterans 
Affairs to permit facilities of the Department of Veterans 
Affairs to be designated as voter registration agencies, and 
for other purposes, having considered the same, report 
favorably thereon with an amendment and recommend that the bill 
as amended do pass.

    The amendment is as follows:

    In section 4(2), strike the semicolon and insert the following: ``, 
except that nothing in this paragraph may be construed to waive any 
requirement under State or local law regarding an individual's 
eligibility to receive an absentee ballot or vote by absentee ballot in 
any election;''.

                   Veteran Voting Support Act of 2008


                         PURPOSE OF LEGISLATION

    H.R. 6625, the Veteran Voting Support Act, was introduced 
in response to the Department of Veterans Affairs' voting 
assistance policy adopted in Directive 2008-025\1\, which 
denies our veterans the voter registration opportunities and 
voting assistance they deserve. Despite several meetings and 
concerns expressed by state election officials, advocacy 
groups, and congressional members, including this Committee, 
the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) refused to change its 
voting assistance policy. Consequently, this legislation would 
require the VA to proactively provide voter registration 
opportunities and enthusiastically assist our veterans with the 
voting process. H.R. 6625 is co-sponsored by 37 Members of 
Congress and supported by organizations that represent over six 
million veterans and hundreds of thousands of concerned 
citizens.\2\
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    \1\Please see Appendix A for Directive 2008-025.
    \2\H.R. 6625 is supported by the American Legion, Paralyzed 
Veterans of America, Disabled American Veterans, Veterans of Foreign 
Wars, Vietnam Veterans Association, American Association of People with 
Disabilities, Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Brennan 
Center, DEMOS, Common Cause, People for the American Way, and the NAACP 
Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF). Please see Appendix E for 
Letters of Support.
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    Our veterans have dedicated their lives to protecting our 
country and deserve every commitment from the government to 
offer them the opportunity to participate in the political 
process. However, it is apparent through the VA's policies and 
actions that the VA views voter registration and assistance as 
a hindrance rather than a responsibility. For example, the VA's 
voting assistance policy only permits voting assistance if 
requested and restricts opportunities for veterans to become 
registered to vote. In addition, the VA's refusal to accept the 
California Secretary of State's request for VA facilities to 
help assist in registering veterans is unprecedented.\3\ The VA 
should seriously and proactively assist our veterans with the 
voting process. H.R. 6625 would require the Secretary of 
Veterans Affairs to permit States to designate VA facilities as 
voter registration agencies under Section 7 of the National 
Voter Registration Act. As designated voter registration 
agencies under Section 7, the VA facilities would be required 
to regularly offer registration and assist veterans in voting.
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    \3\James P. Peake, Secretary of Veterans Affairs, letter to Debra 
Bowen, California Secretary of State, May 19, 2008.
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    Implementation of Directive 2008-025 has created instances 
where state election officials have been denied the opportunity 
to educate and assist veterans with the voting process at VA 
facilities. Specifically, in July of 2008 the Connecticut 
Secretary of State was denied access to the West Haven Veterans 
Center to educate veterans about the state's new voting 
equipment as well as conduct voter registration efforts.\4\ 
This situation is unacceptable as election officials have the 
expertise and knowledge to assist our veterans in the 
registration and voting process. These sentiments were also 
expressed in a July 16, 2008 letter sent by 20 Secretaries of 
State urging the VA to change its voter assistance policy.\5\
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    \4\O'Leary, Mary, ``State officials protest ban on voter 
registration at VA facilities,'' New Haven Register, July 1, 2008. 
    \5\Bysiewicz, Susan, Connecticut Secretary of State, letter to 
James P. Peake, Secretary of Veterans Affairs, July 16, 2008.
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    H.R. 6625 will ensure that the very individuals with voting 
expertise and experience are not denied access to VA 
facilities. To guarantee that veterans utilizing VA facilities 
are able to benefit from the expertise of election officials, 
H.R. 6625 specifically prohibits the Secretary of Veterans 
Affairs from banning election administration officials from 
providing voting information to veterans at designated VA 
facilities. State election officials are responsible for 
encouraging participation and ensuring integrity in our 
election system and federal agencies should not undermine these 
efforts.
    H.R. 6625 also addresses the VA prohibition on voter 
registration drives at VA facilities. By prohibiting non-
partisan voter registration drives, the VA overlooks one of the 
most effective tools in promoting veterans' right to vote. 
Across the country, millions of voters who historically have 
not participated in elections have been energized to 
participate this year through new and innovative registration 
programs, many of which are conducted by election officials and 
non-partisan organizations. It is unreasonable to deny veterans 
these opportunities merely because they reside in VA 
facilities. Therefore, H.R. 6625 would require the Secretary of 
Veterans Affairs to allow election officials and non-partisan 
organizations to provide voter registration and assistance at 
VA facilities.\6\
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    \6\H.R. 6625 instructs the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to provide 
States the ability to designate facilities of the Department of 
Veterans as voter registration agencies. However, the Committee 
recognizes the range of VA facilities spans medical centers, outpatient 
clinics, cemeteries and psychiatric clinics. States are urged to use 
discretion in the designation of facilities and consider whether a VA 
cemetery is an appropriate venue to conduct education and outreach. The 
Committee does not believe it is. Furthermore, reasonable care must be 
taken by all to ensure that ongoing medical care services at VA 
facilities are not disrupted. The Committee anticipates that the States 
will take care regarding this imperative.
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    The VA has repeatedly objected to voter registration drives 
under the premise that local VA facilities would have the 
purportedly burdensome task of determining which organizations 
are in fact non-partisan and which are partisan. This task has 
already been accomplished through 26 U.S.C. Sec.  501(c)(3), 
the registration of non-profit charities under the United 
States Internal Revenue Code. By allowing 501(c)(3) 
organizations to conduct registration drives, local VA 
facilities would not have to investigate whether an 
organization has a political affiliation. Instead, an 
organization that has been classified by the United States 
Government as a 501(c)(3) organization in good standing should 
be considered non-partisan. The VA can rest assured that if the 
Internal Revenue Service finds that an organization is 
violating its status as a 501(c)(3) organization, the proper 
steps will be taken to remedy the situation; in fact, the 
draconian consequences of violating 501(c)(3) standards make 
most non-profits extraordinary careful to avoid such 
violations. In addition, despite claims made by the VA, the 
Hatch Act (53 Stat. 1147) does not prohibit federal employees 
from assisting in voter registration drives, nor does the Hatch 
Act prohibit federal property from being used for nonpartisan 
education and registration activities.\7\
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    \7\``Political Activity and the Federal Employee,'' U.S. Office of 
Special Counsel, December 2005.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
    H.R. 6625 also requires designated VA facilities to provide 
absentee voting information, assist veterans in registering as 
well as voting absentee, and work with election officials to 
ensure proper delivery of voting materials. These additional 
requirements are necessary to ensure the VA is proactively 
assisting our veterans. Furthermore, many veterans using the VA 
facilities may be disabled and may require additional 
assistance.\8\
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
    \8\There have been legitimate concerns about the requirement that 
the VA make available absentee ballots when requested. It should be 
noted that the VA should not store blank absentee ballots at facilities 
but rather ensure requested absentee ballots sent by local election 
offices are made available to inidividuals who request them.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Lastly, the VA has argued that providing voter registration 
opportunities will disrupt facility operations. We have heard 
these unsupported arguments before, by critics of the National 
Voter Registration Act requirements. However, as witnessed 
through Departments of Motor Vehicles' ``motor voter'' 
registrations, agencies can successfully conduct their primary 
responsibilities and register voters as well.\9\ In addition, 
as noted by Ms. Kathy Truss of the Michigan Department of Human 
Services during the April 1, 2008 Committee on House 
Administration's Subcommittee on Elections Hearing, 
``compliance with the National Voter Registration Act is not 
just another federal mandate; it is a key component for 
families to act on their own behalf and become part of the 
public debate.''\10\ Promoting civic engagement at the 
Department of Veterans Affairs should not be viewed as a 
disruption in operations; rather, it is an instrumental 
component of providing medical and social support services to 
our veterans.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
    \9\It should be noted that of the 36 million voter registration 
applications processed from 2004-2006, over 50% were received from 
motor vehicle agencies or other public assistance agencies. U.S. 
Election Assistance Commission's ``The Impact of the National Voter 
Registration Act, 2005-2006.''
    \10\Hearing on the National Voter Registration Act, Section 7: The 
Challenges That Public Assistance Agencies Face. 110th Congress 2nd 
Sess. Page 95 (April 1, 2008).
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

               SECTION-BY-SECTION SUMMARY OF LEGISLATION

Section One--Establishes the short title of this legislation as the 
        ``Veteran Voting Support Act''

Section Two: Findings

     Finds that veterans have risked the greatest 
sacrifice in the name of our country and deserve to be 
supported by the people and the government of the United 
States.
     Finds that veterans are especially qualified to 
understand issues of foreign policy and should be able to voice 
that understanding through voting.
     Finds that the Department of Veterans Affairs 
should make every effort to assist veterans in participating in 
our democracy by helping veterans register and vote.

Section Three--Department of Veterans Affairs facilities as voter 
        registration agencies

     Requires that the Secretary of Veterans Affairs 
permit states to designate VA facilities as voter registration 
agencies under Section 7 of the National Voter Registration 
Act.

Section Four--Assistance with absentee ballots

     Requires VA facilities designated as voter 
registration agencies to provide voting information, assist 
veterans in registering as well as voting, and work with 
election officials to ensure proper delivery of voting 
materials. Provides that nothing in this act may be construed 
to waive any requirement under State or local law regarding an 
individual's eligibility to receive an absentee ballot or vote 
by absentee ballot.

Section Five--Assistance provided by non-partisan organizations

     Requires that the Secretary of Veterans Affairs 
allow non-partisan organizations to provide voter registration 
and assistance at VA facilities.

Section Six--Assistance provided by election administration officials

     Prohibits the Secretary of Veterans Affairs from 
banning election administration officials from providing voting 
information to veterans at any VA facility.
     Defines `voting information' as non-partisan 
information intended for the public about voting, which 
includes voter registration, voting systems, absentee 
balloting, polling locations, and other important resources for 
voters.

Section Seven--Annual report

     Requires the Secretary of Veterans Affairs submit 
to Congress an annual report on how the Secretary has complied 
with the requirements of this Act.

        COMMITTEE CONSIDERATION OF THE LEGISLATION INTRODUCTION

    On July 29, 2008, Mr. Brady of Pennsylvania, along with 37 
members of the House, introduced H.R. 6625, which was referred 
to the Committee on House Administration with an additional 
referral to the House Veterans' Affairs Committee. On 
Wednesday, July 30, 2008, the Committee met to mark up H.R. 
6625. The Committee ordered H.R. 6625 be favorably reported to 
the House with an amendment by a voice vote.

             MATTERS REQUIRED UNDER THE RULES OF THE HOUSE

                         COMMITTEE RECORD VOTES

    Clause 3(b) of House rule XIII requires that the results of 
each record vote on an amendment or motion to report, together 
with the name of those voting for and against, to be printed in 
the committee report. There were no recorded votes during the 
consideration of H.R. 6625.

Amendment agreed to by voice vote

    Ehlers Amendment #2: This amendment would provide 
clarification language in Section 4 that nothing in this act 
may be construed to waive any requirement under State or local 
law regarding an individual's eligibility to receive an 
absentee ballot or vote by absentee ballot. The amendment was 
agreed to by a voice vote.

Amendments not agreed to by voice vote

    Ehlers Amendment #1: This amendment would remove the 
requirement in Section 4 that the Department of Veterans 
Affairs make absentee ballots available as well as assist 
veterans in completing absentee ballots. The amendment was not 
agreed to by a voice vote.
    Ehlers Amendment #3: This amendment would remove Section 5 
of the legislation, which requires the Secretary of Veterans 
Affairs to permit non-partisan organizations to provide voter 
registration and assistance at VA facilities. The amendment was 
not agreed to by a voice vote.
    Ehlers Amendment #4: This amendment would limit the VA 
facilities that states can designate as voter registration 
agencies under Section 7 of the National Voter Registration Act 
to only those in which the Veterans Affairs Voluntary Service 
does not provide voter registration assistance. The amendment 
was not agreed to by a voice vote.
    Ehlers Amendment #5: This amendment would limit Section 4 
requirements to only inpatient or residential facilities. The 
amendment was not agreed to by a voice vote.

                      COMMITTEE OVERSIGHT FINDINGS

    In compliance with clause 3(c)(1) of rule XIII of the Rules 
of the House of Representatives, the Committee states that the 
findings and recommendations of the Committee, based on the 
oversight activities under clause 2(b)(1) of rule X of the 
Rules of the House of Representatives, are incorporated in the 
descriptive portions of this report.

                        CONSTITUTIONAL AUTHORITY

    In compliance with clause 3(d)(1) of rule XIII, the 
Committee states that Article I, Section 4 of the U.S. 
Constitution grants Congress the authority to make laws 
governing the time, place and manner of holding Federal 
elections.

                         EARMARK IDENTIFICATION

    Pursuant to clause 9 of rule XXI, H.R. 6625 does not 
include any congressional earmarks, limited tax benefits, or 
limited tariff benefits as defined in clause 9(d), 9(e), or 
9(f) of rule XXI.

                        PREEMPTION CLARIFICATION

    Section 423 of the Congressional Budget Act of 1974 
requires the report of any committee on a bill or joint 
resolution to include a committee statement on the extent to 
which the bill or joint resolution is intended to preempt state 
or local law. H.R. 6625 is intended to apply in all States and 
preempt laws to the contrary in their application to Federal 
elections.

               CONGRESSIONAL BUDGET OFFICE COST ESTIMATE

    In compliance with clause 3(c)(2) of rule XIII of the Rules 
of the House of Representatives, the Committee sets forth, with 
respect to the bill, the following estimate and comparison 
prepared by the Director of the Congressional Budget Office 
under section 402 of the Congressional Budget Act of 1974:

                                     U.S. Congress,
                               Congressional Budget Office,
                                Washington, DC, September 15, 2008.
Hon. Robert A. Brady,
Chairman, Committee on House Administration,
House of Representatives, Washington, DC.
    Dear Mr. Chairman: The Congressional Budget Office has 
prepared the enclosed cost estimate for H.R. 6625, the Veteran 
Voting Support Act.
    If you wish further details on this estimate, we will be 
pleased to provide them. The CBO staff contact is Dwayne M. 
Wright.
            Sincerely,
                                         Robert A. Sunshine
                                   (For Peter R. Orszag, Director).
    Enclosure.

H.R. 6625--Veteran Voting Support Act

    H.R. 6625 would require the Secretary of the Department of 
Veterans Affairs (VA) to allow states to designate VA 
facilities as voter registration sites and to provide 
information and assistance to individuals wishing to register 
to vote or to cast an absentee ballot. The bill also would 
permit nonpartisan organizations--such as the League of Women 
Voters--to provide such information and assistance at VA 
facilities. CBO estimates that implementing H.R. 6625 would 
cost less than $500,000 over the 2009-2013 period, subject to 
appropriation of the necessary amounts. Enacting the bill would 
not affect direct spending or revenues.
    The 1,330 facilities under VA's jurisdiction include Vet 
Centers, VA Medical Centers, community-based outpatient 
clinics, regional offices, and cemeteries. Assuming that all 
but the national cemeteries--about 135 in total--are feasible 
as voter registration sites, about 1,200 facilities could be 
used to offer the services that would be required under H.R. 
6625.
    The materials necessary for voter registration and absentee 
balloting are prepared by the states. The states also have 
existing programs to train individuals on compliance with the 
National Voter Registration Act. Furthermore, VA recently 
announced plans to use the managers of its Voluntary Services 
Program (VSP) as site coordinators to direct the efforts of 
volunteers working to ensure timely delivery of materials and 
information to individuals needing assistance with voter 
registration at VA hospitals and clinics. Assuming that VSP 
managers or current VA employees would be used as site 
coordinators at other VA facilities, and that most of the work 
would be done by volunteers, CBO expects that the costs 
associated with completing those extra duties would be less 
than $500,000 over the 2009-2013 period.
    H.R. 6625 also would require VA to complete annual 
compliance reports to the Congress outlining its efforts to 
utilize VA facilities as voter registration sites. CBO 
estimates that implementing section 7 would cost less than 
$500,000 over the 2009-2013 period, subject to appropriation of 
the necessary amounts.
    H.R. 6625 contains no intergovernmental or private-sector 
mandates as defined in the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act and 
would impose no costs on state, local, or tribal governments.
    This estimate was prepared by Dwayne M. Wright. The 
estimate was approved by Theresa Gullo, Deputy Assistant 
Director for Budget Analysis.

         CHANGES IN EXISTING LAW MADE BY THE BILL, AS REPORTED

    H.R. 6625 makes no changes to existing law.
    
    

                             MINORITY VIEWS

              H.R. 6625 Veteran Voting Support Act (VVSA)

    On July 30, 2008, the Committee on House Administration 
ordered H.R. 6625 reported favorably by voice vote. H.R. 6625 
provides for the designation of Veterans Affairs facilities as 
Voter Registration Agencies under section 7 of the National 
Voter Registration Act of 1993, establishes additional 
requirements with respect to the provision of special absentee 
voting services at such facilities, and prohibits the Secretary 
of Veterans Affairs from excluding third party voter 
registration groups from VA facilities even when doing so is in 
the best interest of the Veterans who use these facilities.
    While we laud the Committee for addressing the critical 
issue of enfranchising those who have served our nation, and we 
support some of the bill's provisions, we have serious concerns 
about the breadth of H.R. 6625, and the potential for 
unintended detrimental consequences. In addition, we are 
disappointed by the manner in which the Majority introduced 
this legislation--less than twenty-four hours before bringing 
it to mark up--which left insufficient time for meaningful 
reflection and discussion about this important issue and denied 
the members of this Committee the benefit of receiving 
testimony from interested parties.

    DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS FACILITES AS VOTER REGISTRATION 
               AGENCIES; SPECIAL ABSENTEE VOTING SERVICES

    Section 3 of H.R. 6625 permits a State to designate VA 
facilities located in that state as voter registration agencies 
(VRAs) under section 7 of the National Voter Registration Act. 
Section 4 then imposes upon VA facilities designated as VRAs 
additional duties with respect to absentee voting services. 
While we do not categorically oppose the designation of VA 
facilities as voter registration agencies where a state seeks 
such designation (provided that in doing so patient care is not 
compromised), we are concerned about the consequences of 
burdening VA facilities with additional, potentially redundant 
obligations.
    As a preliminary matter, we note that H.R. 6625 fails to 
take advantage of the important role of the VA's Voluntary 
Service (VAVS), one of the largest centralized volunteer 
programs in the federal government. In order to ensure that 
veterans receive voter assistance services in a non-partisan 
manner, with minimal disruption to facility operations, and at 
the least risk to patients, we believe voter assistance 
services should be coordinated through the VAVS to the greatest 
extent practicable. Moreover, under VHA Directive 2008-025, the 
VA already requires that each facility Director ensure that 
each facility has a policy addressing assistance to VA patients 
who seek to exercise their right to register and vote, 
including informing all patients of the opportunity to receive 
voting assistance, and obtaining and maintaining materials used 
to assist with voter registration and voting.
    Second, we are concerned about the special absentee voting 
services imposed upon VA facilities that are designated as VRAs 
pursuant to section 3 of H.R. 6625. Under section 7 of the 
NVRA, which applies to public assistance agencies, public 
libraries, marriage license bureaus, unemployment compensation 
offices, military recruiting offices, and voter registration 
services provided to a person with a disability at the person's 
home, certain services must be made available: Distribution of 
voter registration applications, assistance in completing voter 
registration applications, and acceptance of completed voter 
registration forms for transmittal to the appropriate 
office.\1\ H.R. 6625 would impose upon VA facilities additional 
duties relating specifically to absentee voting; however, the 
Majority has not provided any justification for this special 
treatment of VA facilities under NVRA. If there are concerns 
about the adequacy of the services made available at all VRAs, 
the Committee should investigate this issue before haphazardly 
imposing additional obligations on VA facilities, especially 
where such a burden may cause disruptions to facility 
operations. This is also an example of how the Committee would 
have benefitted from conducting a hearing on this bill before 
marking it up.
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    \1\42 U.S.C. Sec. 1973gg-5(a).
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    The Veterans Administration currently operates 
approximately 155 medical centers, 125 nursing homes, 717 
ambulatory care and clinic facilities, 45 residential 
rehabilitation treatment programs, 209 vet centers, 125 
cemeteries, and hundreds of administrative and other offices 
nationwide. Clearly the voter assistance needs of veterans at 
these facilities vary. For example, where a resident of a VA 
facility is unable to vote in person on Election Day for health 
reasons, it is appropriate and desirable to provide that 
individual with assistance with absentee voting. However, in 
other circumstances, it may be duplicative or unnecessary to 
provide voter assistance above and beyond what is required at 
all other NVRA section 7 VRAs. Recognizing this distinction, 
Mr. Ehlers offered an amendment that would limit the scope of 
the applicability of the special absentee voting provisions to 
those VA facilities where patients reside; however, this 
amendment was defeated along party lines.
    In addition, we specifically object to requiring the VA to 
provide ``absentee ballots upon request.'' We believe that 
those who are eligible to vote absentee under the laws of the 
state of their residence should be offered absentee voting 
information and the means to request an absentee ballot. As 
stated supra, we expect VA facilities to provide their patients 
with the opportunity to receive registration and voting 
assistance when needed. However, we have serious concerns about 
potential conflicts with state law regarding the handling of 
absentee ballots under this provision, and we question the 
wisdom and practicability of such a mandate. No other NVRA 
section 7 VRA is required to keep on hand a stack of absentee 
ballots. An amendment offered by Mr. Ehlers, which would strike 
the provision requiring absentee ballots upon demand, was 
defeated along partisan lines.
    Mr. Ehlers also offered an amendment to section 4, 
providing that nothing in this bill may be construed to waive 
any requirement under State or Local law regarding an 
individual's eligibility to receive an absentee ballot or vote 
absentee. This amendment, which was adopted by voice vote, 
illustrates the care which Congress must exercise when 
legislating in the area of elections, which have traditionally 
been the province of state and local officials.

              THIRD PARTY VOTER REGISTRATION ORGANIZATIONS

    Section 5 of H.R. 6625 requires the Secretary of Veterans 
Affairs to permit certain organizations to provide voter 
registration information and assistance at any VA facility. 
Although the Committee on House Administration does not have 
jurisdiction over this section of the bill (and accordingly we 
were not able to offer any amendments), we nonetheless strongly 
object to this section.
    Specifically, section 5 provides that the VA ``shall permit 
a meaningful opportunity for nonpartisan organizations to 
provide voter registration information and assistance'' at VA 
facilities. However, the bill does not define ``meaningful 
opportunity,'' ``voter registration information and 
assistance,'' or ``nonpartisan organization.'' Without 
providing definitions of these key terms, section 5 is overly 
vague and difficult to apply fairly and consistently. For 
example, the phrase ``meaningful opportunity'' means different 
things to different people, and it would be inexcusable for a 
Veteran who wishes to convalesce in a private setting to be 
intruded upon by volunteers from a voter registration group, no 
matter how well intentioned.
    A recent California case illustrates these risks inherent 
in allowing outside organizations unfettered access to VA 
facilities and patients, as section 5 of H.R. 6225 provides 
for:

          In April 2004, the chairman of the Santa Clara County 
        California Democratic Central Committee (SCCDC), Steven 
        Preminger, along with two other individuals, visited a 
        VA facility in Menlo Park, California, intending to 
        register voters. One of the individuals accompanying 
        Mr. Preminger was wearing a ``John Kerry'' button, and 
        introduced the group as being affiliated with the 
        Democratic Party. When Mr. Preminger and his associates 
        were denied permission to register voters, based on a 
        VA regulation prohibiting partisan activities on VA 
        property, Mr. Preminger sued the Department of Veterans 
        Affairs.
          In August 2007, a federal court upheld the regulation 
        generally prohibiting partisan activities at VA 
        facilities, holding that ``the VA must be able to 
        maintain a place of healing and rehabilitation for the 
        veterans for which it provides services.''\ 2\ In 
        August 2008, the United States Court of Appeals for the 
        Ninth Circuit affirmed a lower court decision holding 
        that the Department of Veterans Affairs properly 
        prohibited Mr. Preminger registering voters at the 
        Menlo Park facility and that the VA's application of 
        the regulation was reasonable and viewpoint neutral.\3\ 
        The Court recognized that the ``primary mission'' of 
        the VA facility is to provide veterans with needed 
        healthcare, and that ``the VA's concern that voter 
        registration drives could compromise its ability to 
        provide health care services to veterans was a 
        reasonable rationale for denying [Preminger's] 
        permission to register voters.''\4\ And moreover, the 
        court held that the VA ``reasonably concluded'' that 
        ``supervising numerous voter registration campaigns 
        would be difficult and time consuming, diverting 
        resources vital to the residents' treatment.''\5\
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    \2\Preminger v. Secretary of Veterans Affairs, 517 F.3d 1299 (Fed. 
Cir. 2008).
    \3\Preminger v. Peake, et al., 2008 WL 3168617 (9th Cir. 2008).
    \4\Id., at *5.
    \5\Id.

    The grounds upon which the Court relied in upholding the 
VA's prohibition on partisan voter registration activities at 
Menlo Park apply equally to any voter registration activities: 
interference with the provision of healthcare to Veterans, and 
disruption to facility operations. These concerns do not 
necessarily reflect a mistrust of the motivations of third 
party organizations that seek to conduct voter registration 
activities, or their volunteers, but rather demonstrate a 
commitment to protecting the health and dignity of our nation's 
Veterans.
    Accordingly, we were troubled that the Majority defeated an 
amendment offered by Mr. Ehlers that would prohibit the 
provision of voter registration services where doing so would 
be detrimental to the health of, or interfere with the 
provision of other services to any patient or beneficiary.\6\
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    \6\Because of the Committee's lack of jurisdiction over section 5, 
this amendment, as drafted, would have applied only to section 4. 
However, we believe these concerns apply to the provision of voter 
registration services at all VA facilities.
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           VETERANS HEALTH ADMINISTRATION DIRECTIVE 2008-053

    On September 8, 2008, several weeks after the Committee 
marked up H.R. 6625, the Secretary of the U.S. Department of 
Veterans Affairs issued a new directive revising the 
Department's policy regarding the provision of voter assistance 
services at VA facilities. Specifically, the new Directive 
allows state and local election officials and qualified non-
partisan organizations some access to VA hospitals and 
outpatient facilities for the purpose of assisting VA officials 
in registering voters. The new policy also requires that state 
and local government officials and outside groups coordinate 
their voter registration activities with the VA to avoid 
potential disruptions in critical patient care.
    In addition, the Directive mandates each VA facility 
establish a written policy on voter assistance that addresses 
the following:
    (a) Patients are granted authorized absence for such 
periods of time as necessary to register and to vote, subject 
to the opinions of their health care providers.
    (b) If patients are unable to leave the facility, 
assistance is provided for registering and for voting by 
absentee ballot.
    (c) Information on the voting assistance program is posted 
throughout the facility.
    (d) Criteria for evaluating the time, place, and manner of 
voter registration and voter assistance activities are 
established.\7\
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    \ 7\VHA Directive 2008-053.
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    We applaud the VA's ongoing efforts to ensure that our 
nation's Veterans are provided voter registration services. 
Nevertheless, as we expressed during the markup of H.R. 6625, 
we have serious concerns about allowing third-party groups 
unfettered access to VA facilities; and accordingly, we are 
pleased that the Secretary of Veterans Affairs reflected this 
concern in Directive 2008-053, requiring VA facilities to 
establish criteria to evaluate appropriate times, places and 
manners of voter registration activities conducted at their 
facilities. Likewise, we supported establishing a role for the 
VA's Voluntary Service (VAVS) in voter registration at VA 
facilities, and therefore we support the VA's decision to 
involve the VAVS with implementation of the new voter 
assistance policy. However, we are not assured that these new 
policies will be sufficient to address our concerns until we 
can determine with certainty that the voter registration 
practices of third party organizations are not conducted in a 
partisan manner and will not disrupt a facility's ability to 
provide patient care.
    Directive 2008-053 addresses some, but not all of our 
concerns with H.R. 6625. Nevertheless, at this time it is our 
sincerest hope that Directive 2008-053 will provide the 
necessary assistance to Veterans that elect to exercise their 
right to register to vote. But the real test will come in the 
implementation of the new policy. And, in the meantime, we see 
no reason to move forward with H.R. 6625.

                               CONCLUSION

    Nothing is more important than ensuring that every vote is 
counted, and every eligible citizen is able to cast a ballot. 
Accordingly, we fully support measures to guarantee that 
members of the Armed Forces and our nation's Veterans are 
provided with sufficient information, opportunities, and 
balloting materials to foster their participation in Federal 
elections. However, we have serious concerns about the 
unintended consequences of H.R. 6625, especially any potential 
harm to the health and dignity of our nation's Veterans.
    Finally, while the Majority rushed to mark up H.R. 6625 
within twenty-four hours of its introduction in the House of 
Representatives, they have been unwilling to address the 
problem of the disenfranchisement of the members of our 
nation's Armed Forces. Data from the 2004 and 2006 elections 
reveal that our military service members stationed overseas 
face substantial obstacles to their participation in elections, 
including untimely receipt of ballots. Specifically, the U.S. 
Election Assistance Commission, in a September 2007 UOCAVA 
Survey, found that, out of the overseas military voters who 
requested absentee ballots for the 2006 election, only 47.6% of 
them actually had their ballots cast or counted; and moreover, 
of the military and overseas absentee ballots that reached 
election officials, nearly 10% were rejected because they were 
received after the deadline. Recognizing the need to act on 
this problem, Rep. Kevin McCarthy introduced the Military Voter 
Protection Act of 2008 (MVP Act), which would provide for the 
expedited return of completed ballots. In addition, Rep. Roy 
Blunt introduced H. Con Res. 388, expressing the sense of 
Congress that the federal government should take certain 
additional and timely measures to ensure that members of the 
Armed Forces and their dependents are provided with reasonable 
information on how to register to vote and vote in the 2008 
general elections. Unfortunately, the Majority has refused to 
act on either of these pieces of legislation. We urge the 
Majority to consider the voting rights of the members of our 
Armed Forces as well as our nation's veterans.

                                   Vernon J. Ehlers.
                                   Daniel E. Lungren.
                                   Kevin McCarthy.