The Senate has passed a resolution that encourages "government entities at all levels" to conduct nonpartisan voter registration drives and says that such drives do not violate the Intergovernmental Personnel Act. The statement was directed at Donald J. Devine, head of the Office of Personnel Management, who recently told Democratic governors in Ohio, Texas and New York that registration drives conducted in state buildings, including welfare and unemployment offices, might violate the act and jeopardize federal funds to the states. "I am offended that this administration in the person of OPM Director Devine would seek to prohibit states from pursuing voter registration drives," said Sen. Dennis DeConcini (D-Ariz.), who wrote the resolution. "Voter registration is not a partisan issue."

But Devine said Congress should blame itself, not him. "I have asked Congress to repeal the Intergovernmental Personnel Act powers given to OPM. Congress has refused to take action. Indeed, my House oversight committee told me I had better enforce the law, like it or not," Devine said. "I'm only doing my job."

The act requires OPM to ensure that state governments have merit systems to protect state employes from coercion for partisan political purposes. The act also prohibits state employes from "using their official authority for the purpose of interfering with or affecting the result of an election . . . . "

Devine's letters were the first warnings ever sent out under the act. Devine said all three governors had sent OPM explanations of the registration plans, and he was studying them. His spokesman, Mark Tapscott, said OPM has sent similar warnings to all governors.