October 27th, 2008
04:40 PM ET
14 years ago

Virginia has issue with some overseas ballots

[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/10/27/art.macfairfax1027.gi.jpg caption="Sen. McCain campaigned in Fairfax County, Virginia last month. His campaign has recently sought to bring attention to a Virginia law that may cause some overseas ballots from military members to be rejected."]
(CNN) – “I am getting e-mails from people offering to buy my tombstone,” Fairfax County Registrar Rokey Suleman said Monday about the brewing controversy over his decision to comply with a Virginia law regarding a small class of absentee ballots for next week’s presidential election.

The ballots have fallen victim to the interplay between state and federal law and a rare set of factual circumstances. Federal law allows members of the U.S. military and other voters living overseas to vote in the general election using a federal write-in absentee ballot. The problem has been caused by the fact that when a Virginia voter decides to use the federal write-in absentee ballot both as a ballot to cast a vote and as an absentee ballot application, a separate Virginia law requires that the paperwork submitted by the voter include the address of the person acting as a witness for the voter.

But here’s the issue: neither the federal absentee write-in ballot itself nor its instructions mentions Virginia’s requirement that the witness’s address be included. In fact, the ballot form doesn’t even have a space to write down the witness address which Virginia requires.

Click here to see the federal write-in absentee ballot

As of Saturday night, Fairfax County, Virginia has received 63 absentee ballot applications that are subject to the legal snag and 6 or 7 of those 63 appear to be from members of the U.S. military, according to Suleman.

“I hate the law. I absolutely hate the law. The law’s ridiculous. The law needs to be changed,” Suleman told CNN. But as he reads the statute, he has no choice but to reject the ballots unless and until state officials tell him differently.

Click here to read more about Suleman's position on the law

Linda Lindberg, Suleman’s counterpart in nearby Arlington County, has not received any absentee ballots yet that would be covered by the Virginia law and she concedes that Suleman’s reading of the law is technically correct. But the Arlington County Registrar says that if she was confronted with the situation, she would accept the ballots. “Our position is this is just common sense,” Lindberg said Monday, pointing out that Virginia’s requirement to provide the witness’s address is not on the ballot form and not in the ballot’s instructions. “Why should we be penalizing the voter for something they know nothing about?,” Lindberg added.

The McCain campaign and members of the military from Virginia held a press conference about the problem late last week and the Virginia State Board of Elections is aware of the conflict.

The state board “is working with the Office of the Attorney General to conduct a detailed review of both laws to guarantee that no undue hardship is placed upon voters who use the Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot,” an October 25 press release on the Board’s Web site says.

“Everyone involved is taking a closer look at both Federal and State laws to ensure that every effort is made to count the votes,” the Board’s Secretary Nancy Rodrigues says in the release.

The problem with overseas ballots caught up between the state and federal requirements is set to be addressed at the Board’s October 28 meeting.

If you have any problems or concerns about voting, CNN would like to hear about them. Call CNN’s voter hotline at 1-877-GOCNN-08 (1-877-462-6608) to report your problem.

Filed under: Virginia • Voter Problems
soundoff (172 Responses)
  1. thomas

    After all of the election problems with the past elections, this is inexcusable. Virginia needs to "FIX IT!"

    October 27, 2008 05:19 pm at 5:19 pm |
  2. robin

    why was not this addressed before now ! The media could be investigating this and all voting problems, while there is time to change them ! No CNN you tell us how awful things are but it is YOUR JOB to inform and investigate . YOUR JOB because you use our air waves ! You did no investigations deep enough to expose the depth of Obama Marxist belief . You have been self absorbed and ridiculous ! DO YOUR JOB

    October 27, 2008 05:19 pm at 5:19 pm |
  3. Chris from St. Louis

    FIX the problem quickly ....

    October 27, 2008 05:19 pm at 5:19 pm |
  4. Vegas

    Thousands of military votes never got counted in Florida because their postage dates were late... even if they made it on time... let's avoid these problems where possible... if anyone has earned a right to cast a vote it's the military members and their families...

    Hope they get this figured out...

    October 27, 2008 05:19 pm at 5:19 pm |
  5. TangoDancer

    Come on USA, can we please get the voting issues resolved? We have so many intelligent people working for the states and local bureacracies. Why can't simple things like early voting, absentee ballots, voter registration, etc... be solved in a professional and non-partisan manner? Maybe it's just me. I've been a voting Republican most of my life. I'll be voting for Obama this year. So I've been on both sides of the ideological divide – yet I expect nothing but the best from our state and local governments to get these bureacratic and administrative issues resolved and taken care of to everyone's satisfaction – regardless of the state or political affiliation of those involved. As Lou Dobbs says, "can't we have a government that works"?

    October 27, 2008 05:20 pm at 5:20 pm |
  6. annonymous


    October 27, 2008 05:20 pm at 5:20 pm |
  7. Jim in Texas

    If it "smells" it's ACORN, Obama trying to steal the Election in one way or another.

    October 27, 2008 05:21 pm at 5:21 pm |
  8. Chloe

    “Why should we be penalizing the voter for something they know nothing about?,” Lindberg added.

    I'm sure the McCain campaign agrees that no ballot, not just those from military voters, should be disqualified on technicalities when cast in good faith by voters who just "knew nothing about" a problem with their ballot.

    October 27, 2008 05:22 pm at 5:22 pm |
  9. Zeppo

    Democracy not only depends upon an honest election. Also required is an unbiased media.

    Reagan abolished the fairness in broadcasting laws to make way for Christion right radio. He must be turning over now!

    October 27, 2008 05:22 pm at 5:22 pm |
  10. S. Boatman

    This Is Another Slick Way Of Not Counting Votes! First You Print Out Some Ballots, Omitt A Few Lines, And All Of A Sudden The Votes Dont Count!

    October 27, 2008 05:22 pm at 5:22 pm |
  11. california

    1. Dead people, muppets and Mickey Mouse can register, but unless someone with the same name and address actually shows up to vote, they don't "have the right to vote", and won't be able to.

    2. Democrats want ALL valid votes counted, regardless of state rules v. Federal. Obviously these votes should be counted.

    October 27, 2008 05:23 pm at 5:23 pm |
  12. CB

    Where on here does it say anything about Dem's???

    October 27, 2008 05:23 pm at 5:23 pm |
  13. CB

    Where on here does it say anything about Dem's?

    October 27, 2008 05:23 pm at 5:23 pm |
  14. Luis, Seattle, WA

    The absentee ballots are not going to come into play unless is a close election. Hopefully people would be able to follow directions like the rest of us...otherwise their votes will be invalid....like the rest of the people that do not follow instructions. YOU WANT YOUR VOTE TO COUNT THEN DARN IT...READ THE INSTRUCTIONS AND DO NOT WAIT TILL THE LAST MINUTE.

    October 27, 2008 05:24 pm at 5:24 pm |
  15. Bob

    We don't even know if Mr Suleman is GOP or a Dem. In any case, he's working diligently to get a higher ruling. He just wants to make sure he isn't breaking the law, which in many states can end up with a civil servant paying fines or in jail. I am confident on review by the state board of elections that that ballots will stand and no one will be happier than Mr Suleman.

    October 27, 2008 05:24 pm at 5:24 pm |
  16. Kerry, CA

    It amazes me that in the 8 years since the hanging chad fiasco we haven't seemed to figure out how to make voting simple and fair so that every vote counts. I'm sick of the blame game going on too because people from both parties have been playing games with the system again this year.

    October 27, 2008 05:24 pm at 5:24 pm |
  17. Griff

    as Bob Hope say's... Thanks for the Memories... But I don't think he would like them.... "Road to Ruin"... Away to go Obama, you have the USA in your Pocket; and they are still asleep..

    October 27, 2008 05:24 pm at 5:24 pm |
  18. Brian

    So this is why I haven't gotten my ballot with only 8 days until the election. Good job Virginia, thanks for taking away my constitutional rights.

    October 27, 2008 05:24 pm at 5:24 pm |
  19. Stacie

    To Hillary supporter now for McCain/Palin
    October 27th, 2008 5:15 pm ET

    That is a dumb think to say. I'm a black woman and I've been a voter since I turned 18. I'm 36 now

    And I was a Hillary supporter when she decided to run. But she didn't win the nomination. So because I’m a Democrat my support is for Obama.

    October 27, 2008 05:25 pm at 5:25 pm |
  20. Please

    ran says:

    "People vote for Obama/Biden to get our country back from the likes of Stevens/Palin/Bush/McCain and other republicans."

    So you can hand your government over to Boxer, Feinstein, Pelosi, Reid, Schumer, Frank, Dodd, Mahoney, Rangel ....need I say more?

    I love how everyone tries to lump McCain and Palin with Bush.

    What is the linkage between Palin and Bush? Oh, yeah, she was a governor while he was in office. I guess we really need to get rid of the Obama/Bush policies.

    October 27, 2008 05:25 pm at 5:25 pm |
  21. S. Boatman

    The Republicans Will Do Anything To Block Your Vote Or Not Count It!

    October 27, 2008 05:26 pm at 5:26 pm |
  22. LIARS


    Nice try.

    October 27, 2008 05:26 pm at 5:26 pm |
  23. Hardworking lady

    This is a law enacted by Virginia who knows how long ago. This is a traditionally Repub state and the laws are written by Repubs. Quit blaming the dems for this. Let the military vote count. You'd all be surprised how many are turning blue. Many don't want to go on their 5th, 6th or even 7th tour to Iraq.

    October 27, 2008 05:27 pm at 5:27 pm |
  24. Voted Early

    Hillary supporter now for McCain/Palin October 27th, 2008 5:15 pm ET

    BO is bound to win with over 99% of blacks voting for him; many of whom have never voted.

    Is this racism?

    Why would anyone of any intelligence vote for someone who is inexperienced, and arrogant to boot.

    The others voting for BO must be terribly young and easily swayed by a charismatic individual.

    and you must be terribly old and easliy fooled by an old man that has NOTHING to offer but your dream for a woman ( not hillary it seems ) any woman to be v.p. Go figure old sticking with the old ...

    October 27, 2008 05:27 pm at 5:27 pm |
  25. Independent Vote

    It sounds to me like this law was put in place without someone doing their homework on what federal ballots say or to purposely exclude some voters. I hope it was lack of homework and will be resolved before election day.

    October 27, 2008 05:27 pm at 5:27 pm |
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