The first large block of voters to be disenfranchised in 2008 are the wounded warriors from recent wars and homeless veterans living at hundreds of Department of Veterans Affairs facilities across the country, according to veterans and voting rights activists.
"President Bush and Karl Rove are attempting to block voter registration of at least 200,000 and possibly as much as 400,000 veterans," said Paul Sullivan, president of Veterans for Common Sense, referring to injured former soldiers from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq in various VA treatment facilities, veterans living in the VA's nursing homes, and homeless veterans living in VA shelters.
"We may have all kinds of hurdles," Sullivan said. "We may have the clock running out on us, but we will not give up. This needs to be shoved in the face of every single elected official in the country. We can fix this in a second We are talking about two or three sentences in legislation. We are talking about the integrity of our democracy."
In recent months, the Department of Veterans Affairs has resisted efforts by U.S. senators and top state election officials to allow voter registration drives in its facilities. Just last month, the VA issued new rules that banned election officials -- whether local registrars or secretaries of state -- from registering voters, saying it was a partisan activity that interfered with its medical mission. In most states, any time a person changes their residence they must update their voter registration in order to vote.
The VA's ban on registration drives, even by state constitutional officers, provoked a rebuke from the National Association of Secretaries of State -- a resolution urging the VA to rescind its policy -- and revived the issue in Congress, where separate House and Senate bills would force the VA to become a voter registration agency like state motor vehicle departments, where people are proactively given an opportunity to register to vote. Under the VA's current policy, any resident in its facilities must seek help with voter registration and voting.
The problem with the congressional efforts, according to Sullivan and others following this issue, is that the VA appears to be on course to run out the clock before meaningful voter registration drives could be undertaken for this year's presidential election.
Under the most optimistic scenario, even if the Congress passed legislation within a week of reconvening, which would be mid-September, the president would have two weeks to sign it into law. That timeline places the bill's potential adoption very close to the first week in October, when voter registration closes for the November election in 27 states. Moreover, at that time, state election officials would have little time to organize and implement voter registration drives, voting rights activists said.
"This is a bill you can't vote against," said Scott Rafferty, who sued the VA in 2004 when the agency blocked voter registration efforts by Democrats at its campus in Menlo Park, California, but allowed the Republican Party onto the campus to register voters. "But it is almost physically impossible to get it passed and implemented in time."