VETERANS' groups, some members of Congress decry plan to have joint Election Day-Veterans Day

Tuesday, July 31st 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Carter-Ford commission's proposal to boost election turnout by moving Veterans Day to coincide with Election Day is sparking criticism from veterans groups and some members of Congress.

``Election Day is Election Day. Veterans Day is Veterans Day,'' said Rep. Chris Smith, a New Jersey Republican who chairs the House Veterans' Affairs Committee. ``To use a holiday that is focused on honoring and revering the sacrifices of our veterans as voting day would dilute it and would undermine the very reason why it was established.''

``I would weigh in very vigorously against it,'' Smith said.

The commission led by former Presidents Carter and Ford outlined its recommendations to improve elections in a report released Tuesday.

The commission urges Congress to ``enact legislation to hold presidential and congressional elections on a national holiday.''

The commission said it favored moving Veterans Day, now Nov. 11, to coincide with Election Day, which is the Tuesday after the first Monday in November.

``Holding national elections on a national holiday will increase availability of poll workers and suitable polling places and might make voting easier for some workers,'' the commissioners wrote.

Beginning first as Armistice Day, Veterans Day has been held since the early 1920s. It marks the end of World War I at 11 a.m. on Nov. 11, 1918.

Congress in 1968 moved the holiday to a Monday so that federal employees could have a three-day weekend.

But the change sparked outrage then as well, so in September 1975 President Ford signed a law returning to the original date.

Veterans groups say the change is still a bad idea. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, a Texas Democrat, introduced legislation this year to move the holiday to coincide with Election Day. After outcry from veterans groups, she introduced another bill that would make Election Day a national holiday every four years. Aides say the Senate is considering adding that language into a broad election overhaul package.

``Moving it would certainly take away from Veterans Day,'' said Ray Smith, national commander of the American Legion. ``That's the day that has been set aside to honor the veterans who served this country's military.''

Dennis Cullinan, director of national legislative service for the Veterans of Foreign Wars, said, ``There are enough distractions around Veterans Day as it is. To confuse the two would be an absolute travesty.''