WASHINGTON (CNN) - A federal judge on Tuesday ordered Virginia election officials to hold on to late-arriving absentee ballots from members of the military stationed overseas.
Republican John McCain's presidential campaign has sued the state election board, contending tens of thousands of votes from those in the armed forces might be voided unless a deadline is extended.
Judge Richard Williams ordered a hearing on the lawsuit next Tuesday afternoon in Richmond, and said in the meantime, those ballots will be set aside and preserved.
At issue is whether Virginia officials allowed enough time to print and mail ballots to military members in foreign countries who requested them.
Federal law requires those ballots be mailed at least 45 days before a general election. Lawyers for the McCain camp say many ballots were not sent until October, and many arrived just days before the election.
State law says completed absentee ballots must be received by 7 p.m. Election Day, when the polls close. The lawsuit asks that any ballots received by November 14 be counted.
Virginia is a key battleground state in the race for the presidency and recent polls show a close race in the Old Dominion. Officials say about half-million people in the state have cast absentee ballots - about a tenth of the electorate.
The state has a large military population, especially in the Tidewater region, where the U.S. Navy has a large presence, and in northern Virginia, where the Pentagon and other military installations are located.
In a separate case, Williams declined a request to extend Tuesday's polling hours. The NAACP had sued election officials last week, claiming a shortage of voting machines in several key precincts would discourage many African-American voters from casting a ballot.
But Williams did order the state to further publicize the fact that voters in line by 7 p.m. would be allowed to vote, and that elderly and disabled voters could cast ballots curbside, in front of polling stations, without having to wait in the lines.
The military voter suit is McCain-Palin 2008 Inc. v. Cunningham (08-709).
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