UPDATE: Virginia Military Absentee Ballots Must Count

Virginia Attorney General Bob McDonnell has issued a formal opinion concluding that federal absentee ballots from overseas military voters lacking the printed name and address of a witness must be counted.  

In the formal opinion the Attorney General finds, “It is…. my opinion that the applicable provision of Virginia law, § 24.2-702.1(B), interpreted to require an overseas military voter submitting only a Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot to include the printed name and address of the person who signs the witness statement is preempted by the provisions of the (federal) Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act.  Finally, it is my opinion that general registrars may not reject a Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot submitted by overseas military voters for the November 4, 2008 federal election that does not include a printed name and address for the person who signs the witness statement…”

This directive was delivered to all of Virginia’s State Boards of Elections on Monday.

The controversy began last week when Fairfax County voter registrar Rokey Suleman set aside hundreds of military ballots for rejection based on his conclusion that the Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot, or FWAB, should have a witness address accompanying the signature.  The state of Virginia did not instruct Virginia soldiers to provide this witness address nor does the federal form provide space for it.

Concerns over partisanship were raised as Suleman founded a Young Democrat group in Ohio and unsuccessfully ran for office as a Democrat earlier this year.  His insistence on rejecting military ballots on a hyper-technicality — ballots that trend Republican — coupled with his voter drive in the county jails this year — votes that trend toward Democrats — Suleman recently raised the ire of this Northern Virginia community with his blatant rejection of hundreds of military ballots.  

Sam Wright, retired Naval Jag officer and director of the National Defense Committee’s efforts to protect our military’s votes, got involved in this effort and was very grateful for the decision.  “Thank you, Attorney General McDonnell, for going to bat for the brave young men and women who are away from home and willing to lay down their lives for our rights including our right to vote,” Wright said.

Fairfax County Supervisor Pat Herrity held a press conference last week, along with former members of the military, to bring this issue to the public’s attention.  “This is great news for our soldiers.  I hope we can now put this issue behind us,” Herrity said when reached by phone for an interview.  “If the Fairfax registrar will do as he claims he wants to do, this allows him to count those military votes,” Herrity concluded.

When I reached the registrar late Monday for comment, Suleman said, “I have not had time to digest it.  I just got it a few minutes ago.”  

In an interview on Friday, 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.”  Given this new directive from the Virginia State Attorney General, Suleman can now set aside professed personal fear for his job security and count the military votes.  There is no reasonable excuse left.  These military ballots can and would be counted by any non-partisan registrar in Virginia.

Attorney General McDonnell’s full opinion can be found here.