VA allows voter registration drives in nursing homes

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Voter registration drives will soon take place in nursing homes and other federally run facilities where veterans reside, thanks to a recent decision by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The agency last week overturned a ban on voter registration drives among veterans living at the facilities. New guidelines mandate that patient voter information and information on other patient rights be posted in every VA hospital and issued to every veteran upon admission. With the Iraq war and national security a big issue in the upcoming election, veterans could represent a key block of voters come November. Still, it's not clear whether the agency will implement the policy in time for the presidential election and whether state and local voting officials will work to sign up veterans to vote.

As recently as May of this year, the VA defended its decision to ban such voter registration drives. Reasoning for the ban came, in part, from the Hatch Act, a 1993 bill that prevents some federal employees from engaging in certain political activities.While veterans are not considered federal employees, VA officials had contended that registration drives would be disruptive to care. More than 100,000 people reside for a month or longer at VA. facilities nationally, a number that has grown as soldiers return wounded from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.