Christine Stuart photo
Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz (Christine Stuart photo )

Instead of marching down to the veterans hospital in West Haven, where their photo opt was ruined earlier this month, Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz and Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, decided to announce their efforts to overturn the Department of Veteran Affairs policy on voter registration from the comfort of Bysiewicz’s state Capitol office Friday.

Bysiewicz said she went to the facility in West Haven on July 1 after learning about the Department of Veterans Affairs directive 2008-25, which says “It is VHA policy to assist patients who seek to exercise their right to register and vote; however, due to Hatch Act (Title 5 United States Code…) requirements and to avoid disruptions to facility operations, voter registration drives are not.”

In this legal opinion released Friday, Blumenthal said the VHA directive “is seriously confusing and misleading—even deceptive.” Blumenthal said if they had simply inserted the word “partisan” before voter registration drives, it would have made things clear. But by making the language confusing, “the net result produced confusion across the country,” he said.

Blumenthal said he’s considering legal action against VA, if VA Secretary James Peake does not grant Bysiewicz and her staff access to the West Haven facility by July 17. 

“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 opined. 

When asked by a reporter Friday how many times she had attempted to hold a voter registration drive at the VA facility before July 1, Bysiewicz said, “None.” She said she had thought the local registrars of voters were going to the facility to register veterans to vote, but when she called them they told her they had never been invited.

She said it’s hard to know how many residents are living at the facility and may not be registered. She said there are about 300,000 veterans living in Connecticut, but this issue is “much bigger than Connecticut.” Bysiewicz said in this press release that a coalition of 10 Secretaries of State have signed onto a letter she sent July 10 to Secretary Peake.

On July 1, Roger Johnson, the director the VA Connecticut Healthcare System told a crowd—contrary to the Democrats’ fiery rhetoric—that he had no problem at all with Bysiewicz helping his patients register to vote. Indeed, he said he’d welcome anyone who volunteers to help with voter registration, as long as they stick to nonpartisan activity. He said the facility has long allowed non-partisan voter registration drives on campus.

Calls Friday to request information about how many nonpartisan registration drives the VA facility has hosted were not immediately returned.