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GOP Knocks Va. Democrats' Registrations

Secretary of the Commonwealth Katherine K. Hanley, who processed restoration-of-rights forms for Kaine, said the governor was following through on a process started by Warner to allow some nonviolent felons to regain their rights to make them better citizens.

Only Virginia and Kentucky require an act of the governor to restore voting rights to felons. The vast majority of states, including Maryland, automatically restore voting rights after a sentence is completed. "The governor doesn't have a crystal ball, and I am sure there are a few people who re-offended. But if they are felonies, they lose their right to vote again," Hanley said.

Hanley and Skinner also strongly disputed the McCain campaign's charge that the governor is only interested in getting more votes for Obama. Even if felons have their rights restored, they still must register to vote before going to the polls. And most of the applications processed by Kaine were for people seeking to restore their gun rights.

But Republicans allege that the Obama campaign is behind many of the applications received by Kaine this year. Kevin Griffis, an Obama spokesman, said that the charges are "just more dishonest and dishonorable attacks from a desperate, flailing campaign."

There also was controversy in Fairfax County after reports this month that inmates at the county detention center were being allowed to register to vote.

After being approached by a defense attorney, about two dozen inmates who had misdemeanor convictions or were awaiting trial were given forms and information last month on how to obtain absentee ballots, said Rokey W. Suleman II, Fairfax County's general registrar.

"I thought, 'If these guys are eligible to vote, let's get them registered,' " Suleman said. "I would have done the same thing if someone asked us to register folks in a nursing home."

James E. Hyland, chairman of the Fairfax County Republican Committee, said he is exploring whether Suleman violated state law by holding a voter registration drive in a non-public location.

As the fight over voting rights grows, Republicans are also crying foul over Suleman's decision to throw out 260 federal absentee ballots, which are often used by members of the military, on Election Day.

The Virginia Code requires anyone who uses the federal absentee ballot to have it signed by a witness, who also must provide his or her address if they have not previously applied to vote absentee. Online instructions for the ballot say a witness must submit an address, but the ballot doesn't expressly state that requirement, and many don't include it.

"I can't ignore the law," Suleman said. "Believe me, if I could get a lawyer to tell me to allow these votes, I'd love to."

At a news conference organized by the McCain campaign, Fairfax County Supervisor Pat S. Herrity (R-Springfield) urged Suleman to count the votes, saying the address restriction makes voting difficult for those serving abroad.

The local absentee ballots mailed out by various jurisdictions also require a witness's signature, but not the witness's address. And that, he said, creates an unfair double standard.

"The Fairfax County registrar is going to great lengths to register voters in the county jail. It is shameful he is going to even greater lengths to disenfranchise our men and women in uniform," said U.S. Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.).

Jared Leopold, a spokesman for the Virginia Democratic Party, said Virginia Democrats are "committed to working with Republicans to make sure every vote is counted."

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