By Christian Davenport
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 27, 2008 5:00 PM
A ruling by Virginia's attorney general today paved the way for dozens of potentially invalid absentee ballots mailed from overseas to be counted in the Nov. 4 election, ending a controversy that some feared would disenfranchise members of the military.
Republicans last week blasted the Fairfax County general registrar, who said about 100 federal write-in absentee ballots, often used by members of the military serving abroad, were invalid because they did not have a witness's address, as required by state law.
In his ruling today, Attorney General McDonnell (R) said that federal law trumped state law, and that the ballots should be counted. The ballots are used as backups by citizens abroad who fear that the absentee ballot mailed from their locality won't reach them in time.
The Virginia Code states that voters who had not previously applied for a local absentee ballot must have the federal ballot signed by a witness, who also must provide his or her address. Although the online instructions for the ballot say a witness must provide his or her address, the ballot doesn't expressly state that requirement, and many don't include their address. In denying the federal ballots, Rokey W. Suleman II, the Fairfax registrar, said he was merely following state law.
"I can't ignore the law," Suleman said last week. "Believe me, if I could get a lawyer to tell me to allow these votes, I'd love to."