Military ballots are still being rejected in Fairfax County, Va., by registrar Rokey Suleman on the basis that the Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot, or FWAB, should have a witness address accompanying the signature. Federal law enabling military balloting by mail does not require the address, and the federal ballot form lacks a space for it.
The state of Virginia did not properly instruct Virginia soldiers to provide this witness information. Note the instructions given to Virginia service members, “Block 7: Sign and date in the presence of a witness. The witness must sign and date the form.” Nothing is said about an address requirement for the witness and the FWAB form offers only a signature block for the witness. By last Thursday, out of 260 ballots, only five had the witness address meeting Suleman’s requirement.
Having left several voicemail messages at the registrar’s office last week, Suleman returned my calls on Friday afternoon. He told me that his board met back in September and he told them that there was a problem but it was not remedied. When asked why Fairfax is the only county not counting these ballots, Suleman told me, “The other county boards are breaking the law. I’m not putting myself in jeopardy. The board of elections could come in and remove me if I allowed these votes.”
With elections less than two weeks away, I asked if there was a way to remedy this situation in Fairfax County before the election, Suleman said, “A judge would have to legislate from the bench to fix this before the elections.”
Democrat operatives have worked in the past to discount military ballots, as soldiers tend to vote overwhelmingly for a Republican as their Commander-in-Chief. In the aftermath of the 2000 election in Florida, as well as in Pennsylvania in 2004, concerted efforts were made to reject military absentee ballots, and national outrage erupted over leaks of Democrat memoranda instructing their legal teams on the ground during the process to disallow military ballots.
These same concerns are being raised about Suleman in this battleground state. When he led a voter registration drive earlier this year in the county jails, information came to light that Suleman founded the Trumball, Ohio, Young Democrats and ran for office there as a Democrat earlier this year. Suleman says his office is non-partisan, yet some are asking why he would go out of his way to register inmates to vote prior to a possible felony conviction, yet reject military ballots on a hyper-technicality.
The National Defense Committee is a grassroots group of retired military whose Military Ballot Protection Program is set up to protect not only a soldier’s rights but to insure their votes are counted. I spoke with Capt. Sam Wright, a retired Naval JAG officer who serves as director of the program. Wright contacted the Department of Justice, asking in his letter for their review of Fairfax County’s procedures. During a long conversation full of military ballot horror stories, Wright discussed his group’s involvement in the issue with Suleman. “There has been some narrowing of the circumstance to disallow the ballots,” Wright said. “Some of these votes will now be counted.”
Suleman’s prior position had been that all of the federal ballots would be rejected unless the witness address was included. Now he says if a soldier first applied for a state ballot, did not receive the state ballot, then used the federal write-in ballot as a stop-gap, he will count the vote with or without the witness address. If the soldier used this federal write-in ballot as his sole means for voting, Suleman will not count the ballot if there is no witness address.
It has yet to be determined how many soldiers this narrow Fairfax County decision will disenfranchise. The rest of the Virginia counties have accepted responsibility for not providing proper instructions to the soldiers and will be counting all of these ballots.